From The Plain Dealer‘s "Outdoor Insider" columnis D’Arcy Egan:

Grand Lake St. Marys in Western Ohio is a major mess that has legislators, state officials and Ohio boating groups feuding over how to fund ways to fix the sprawling reservoir.

The shallow, 13,500-acre lake in Mercer and Auglaize counties has been around since 1845, created as a water storage facility for the Miami-Erie Canal. Decades of sediment and agricultural runoff have resulted in a need for dredging and prompted toxic blue-green algal blooms. The blooms forced the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to close the lake this summer to swimming, wading and fishing.

Boating and fishing drive a $200 million tourism industry there, says state Sen. Keith Faber (R-Celina).

Faber pushed for a provision in the state budget bill to take $4 million from the Ohio Division of Watercraft’s Waterways Safety Fund to treat the waters with alum (a chemical compound), and another $750,000 for dredging.

“Now that we’ve found another funding source for the $4 million Caesar Creek Reservoir Marina, which was to be funded by the Waterways Safety Fund, we’ve freed up money for the projects at Grand Lake St. Marys,” Faber said.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources doesn’t agree, but won’t fight Faber’s financial solution.

Ohio’s boating industry has long fought against sharing money generated by boat registrations, boat fuel taxes and federal boating grants, which are dedicated for Ohio boating programs. When Waterways Safety Funds are used for nonboating projects, such as Grand Lake St. Marys, it prevents the Division of Watercraft from receiving matching federal money, said the Westlake-based Lake Erie Marine Trades Association.

“The water degradation sins of upland users and abusers should not be paid for by the boaters of Ohio,” association official Ken Alvey said at a state hearing last week.

The Ohio Waterways Safety Council meets Wednesday at 10 a.m. to brief members and the public at the Division of Watercraft headquarters in the ODNR Fountain Square Complex, 2045 Morse Road, Building A, Columbus.


By D’Arcy Egan, The Plain Dealer