Commission delays vote on distressed Lake Erie watershed

Columbus — A plan to declare eight northwest Ohio waterways in distress to help ease agricultural toxic runoff into Lake Erie was put on hold by the Ohio Soil and Water Commission at its quarterly meeting Nov. 1.

By a vote of 4-3, the commission voted to put off the decision and possibly revisit the issue at its next quarterly meeting in February.

Commission consent is required by Ohio law, which is part of Gov. John Kasich’s July executive order to request consent from the commission to find Platter Creek, Little Flat Rock Creek, Little Auglaize River, Eagle Creek, Auglaize River, Blanchard River, St. Marys River, and Ottawa River in the Maumee River watershed as Watersheds in Distress.

Commission member Kent Stuckey, a dairyman from Crawford County, made a motion to postpone a vote on consent until the commission “knows exactly what the rules are.”

As part of Kasich’s executive order, signed in July, the Ohio Department of Agriculture amended certain rules for the application of nutrients, such as phosphorous, on land by farmers.

“This is not a yes or no vote,” Stuckey said of his motion to give the commission more time to receive information about proposed rule changes as directed by Kasich’s executive order. “We have a responsibility to everyone in Ohio.”

The amended rules package for distressed watersheds are being reviewed by the legislative Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review. There will be a public hearing on the amended rules Nov. 20 at the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s headquarters in Reynoldsburg.

The rules could affect 7,000 farms and up to 2 million acres estimated by the agriculture department to be impacted by the governor’s executive order.

After the commission’s vote, Kasich used social media to express disappointment.

“Courage is prized because it’s difficult and rare,” @johnkasich wrote on Twitter. “I applaud those who stood up for protecting Lake Erie today and am disappointed by those who didn’t. The problem isn’t going away so the hard work will continue.”

Both Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Director Craig Butler and Interim Director Tim Derickson urged the commission to consent to the governor’s executive order to find the eight watersheds in distress. The executive order would require farmers to develop nutrient management plans.

“The complex issues about data quality and quantity have been asked and, frankly, answered,” Butler told the commission. “Tactics that have been employed about misunderstanding and grandstanding frankly should stop. Please do not delay. Please do not play politics with this issue.”

“Everyone agrees there is a problem in Lake Erie and the lake’s Western Basin,” Director Derickson told the commission before the vote. “This designation is the next step forward to collectively fix this problem and secure the health of Lake Erie for generations to come.”

Before Stuckey introduced a motion to the table the consent vote, commission member Kate Bartter introduced a motion to consent to the Watershed In Distress designation.

“I think we all need to reflect on what our goal is,” Bartter said. “What we’re doing today is the first step. I don’t see why we shouldn’t move forward.”

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