Officials from Auglaize and Mercer counties Wednesday received some tips on how to maximize partnerships and funding in the battle for Grand Lake St. Marys.
Representatives from KCI Technologies, based in Maryland, provided a PowerPoint presentation to members of the Grand Lake St. Marys Restoration Community Improvement Corporation. KCI Vice President Charles H. Hegberg touched upon several possibilities for the CIC, including how to maximize partnerships with public and private entities as well as how to secure a wide swath of funding sources to help the lake.
“It’s going to take something different, out-of-the-box thinking in order to grapple with the situation which we have here,” Mercer County Economic Development Director Jared Ebbing said. “Little grants here or there are great, we will continue to go after them. But grants in themselves aren’t going to be a solution. We have to create opportunity.”
Ebbing said creating an economic benefit will be a major tool in helping to turn around the lake. Ebbing, along with Auglaize County Commissioner Doug Spencer had meetings with officials to determine what type of district to create that would maximize the group’s effort.
“(We’re) not (going to) create a port authority and not (going to) create a conservation district — but something different that can really propel us to stand out and be on the cutting edge to get something this big get taken care of.”
With traditional funding sources like state and federal governments drying up, Ebbing said it will take new ideas to secure funding for projects to clean up Grand Lake St. Marys and its watershed.
“The federal government is broke, the state government is broke, what are we going to do to get capital infusion into a solution,” Ebbing said. “We are continuing on.”
Hegberg said it will take different approaches in order to get the funding into the region to restore the lake. Some of the financing approaches included creating possible revenue streams to help fund projects.
“As Jared said, grants are great and donations are limited so it presents a challenge,” Hegberg said. “We’ve got to look at appropriateness of scale. Big problems take big solutions. If you are only getting incremental grants, you are not going to get ahead of the curve. We have to find a way to get an infusion of capital into this process.”
One of the possible revenue streams involves the item at the root of the problem at Grand Lake St. Marys. The high phosphorus loads in the lake’s sediment could make it a viable option for companies looking for sources of it as a fertilizer.
“So instead of maybe dredging the lake, the concept is more how about if we vacuum the lake and vacuum those lower levels and get that phosphorus out,” Hegberg said. “That’s stored energy. That’s what is going to cause the greenness coming back every year until that energy is used up.”
Ebbing said that high phosphorus levels in the lake could be an asset in terms of securing revenue for clean-up efforts.
“We can look at it as a negative and say how are we going to deal with it, but to me, from an economic development perspective, let’s make lemonade out of the lemons,” Ebbing said. “If it’s an asset, let’s use it.”
Hegberg noted there is a company in Canada that makes pelletized phosphorus by removing it from water. By teaming up with companies, Hegberg said the group can maximum its revenue stream.
“Phosphorus isn’t cheap,” Hegberg said. “(It’s) $1,400, $1,500 a ton.”
By Mike Burkholder, The Evening Leader