May 2019

Bryan Times May 6, 2019

Alliance concludes informational meetings about the charter

Report by Ron Osburn

Organizers behind the effort to bring a charter form of government to Williams County said they are pleased with the recent series of public informational meetings on the effort.

Members of the Williams County Alliance said the five meetings — held once a week in april, each in a different location around the county — were an opportunity to present information and address residents’ concerns about the proposed charter initiative.

The Alliance has proposed the charter as a way to legally oppose Artesian of Pioneer’s controversial plan to drill into the Michindoh Aquifer and sell water to entities outside of Williams County.

“We were real pleased.  We never had less than 70 people at any of the meetings, and we probably had about 90 at our last meeting (April 30 at the Northwest Township Building in Cooney),” said Fleming, of Bryan.  Other meetings were held in Bryan, Montpelier, West Unity and Edon.

“It gave us a good opportunity to get out in the community and communicate with people face to face, who are concerned and want AOP stopped.  I think it helped the community to know we are trying to be as open and transparent as possible,” Fleming said Friday.

The local, grassroots Alliance is working with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) on the charter, which organizers say could be tailored to allow Williams County to create its own government and adopt legislation more in line with the needs and wishes of the community.

As a statutory county, Williams County’s governmental authority is under the power of the state.  A charter would create so-called “home rule,” in which residents would have greater say in their government through the right of “initiative, referendum and recall,” Fleming said.

Fleming said the meetings dd uncover some concerns that caught them off-guard.  For instance, under the current statutory structure, county commissioners have no lawmaking authority.  But if the charter were enacted, under home rule, the commissioners would have the authorization and ability to enact law.

“That marks a big change, and people had concerns,” she said.  “Is the charter perfect?  No.  But it can be amdned and changed to reflect the residents’ wishes.”

In a statement to The Bryan Times in early April, County Commissioner Brian Davis said the sommissioners will not comment because the issue could come before the commission as the petition works its way toward ballot certification.

“The commissioners will remain mute as we are part of the petition ballot process.  We respect the right of citizens to exercise their rights, but it would be inappropriate for us to opine,” Davis said.

The Alliance currently is collecting signatures to qualify the charter initiative for the Nov. 6 general election ballot.  Fleming said the group has collected about 1,000 signatures so far, and will continue to collect with a goal of 2,000 through the end of June, when it will submit them to the board of elections.

The Alliance needs 1,365 valid signatures of county voters, regardless of party affiliation, by the July 3 deadline.

Alliance member and meeting organizer Lou Pendleton termed the meetings “successful, both in terms of attendance and in being able to collect signatures for our petitions.  We had good attendance at all our meetings and we were able to talk about the (charter) process and where we are going and what we are doing,” she said Friday.

AOP, owned by Ed Kidston, who’s also the mayor of Pioneer, has drilled a test production water well on a site on Fulton County Road S, just northwest of Fayette, and is awaiting final approval by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

The OEPA held an informational meeting about the application that drew about 800 attendees to the Fayette school gymnasium March 12.  OEPA spokesperson Dina Pierce told  The Bryan Times that as of Friday, no decision on AOP’s application has been made.

According to estimates, at least 75 million gallons a day are currently being withdrawn from the aquifer by multiple business, agriculture users and 380,000 residents in the nine counties in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana within the Michindoh Aquifer.

Kidston has maintained he is “99 percent sure” the Michindoh Aquifer will support his proposal, which he’s said could utilize up to 14 million gallons per day, depending on how many customers ultimately join the water system.

Asked how he knows that, Kidston said he’s relying on his 40 years of experience in the water business, but acknowledged that scientific data from geology reports does not exist right now to prove or disprove his supposition.

The OEPA has said that for a 14 million gallons per day water system to be approved, AOP will have to prove it can provide double that daily amount without damaging the environment or negatively affecting nearby wells.

When asked about the Alliance’s charter initiative effort as a way to oppose his project, Kidston dismissed it, saying changes to Williams County government would have no effect on his project in Fayette, in Fulton County.

“It means nothing.  And if Williams County people go for it, they’re fools,” he said during a late March tour of a new water plant AOP installed for Lyon Township, in Michigan, that Kidston said was very similar to the one proposed in Fayette.

Fleming said regardless of the fact that the test well is being drilled in Fulton County, it’s still within the boundary of the Michindoh and the Williams County charter would protect the aquifer by giving it rights under the law that are enforceable throughout the area bounded by the Michindoh.

The Alliance will collect signatures at the Democratic Women of Rural NW Ohio on May 7, at Sauder’s Barn; on May 11 at the Farmers Market on the downtown square in Bryan, and the May 16 Thursday night cruise-in in downtown Bryan.

The entire text of the proposed Williams County charter, along with other points of information, is available at http://www.protectourwaterwilliamscounty.com.

Bryan Times May 18, 2019

Charter on board agenda

Report by Don Koralewski

(Reader: The important new information in this article is that the commissioners plan to schedule a “public information meeting regarding the impace of a proposed county charter.”  No date set.)

Bryan Times May 21, 2019

County Commissioners set date for charter informational meeting

Report by Don Koralewski

Williams County Commisioners have scheduled an informational meeting on the topic of a proposed county charter, which proponents hope to have on November’s ballot.

The meeting will take place at 1:30 pm on June 3 in the conference room of the county East Annex building, 1425 E. High St., Bryan.

Presenting information about the charter process will be John Leutz, a staff member of the County Commissioners Association of Ohio.  Leutz is familiar with the process of localities moving to a charter form of local governance and how it differs from the current state of county governance.

As currently practiced, Williams County governance is through statute and the Ohio Revised Code.  As such, county governance is restricted from imposing rules and regulations that aren’t part of the Ohio Revised Code.

Adoption of a county charter allows for “home rule” — or the ability of a locality to enact certain rules, regulations and policies that apply specifically to that locality.

Members of the Williams County Alliance group are in the process of gathering signatures to place theissue on November’s ballot.  And, the organization has held several informational meetings across the county to help inform voters about the benefits of county charter as the basis for county governance.

Prominent in the proposed county charter is a community bill of rights that grants rights to the Michindoh Aquifer and the Michindoh Aquifer ecosystem.

The Williams County Alliance is fighting against Artesian of Pioneer’s (AOP) proposal to pump and sell aquifer water to communities surrounding Toledo.  The proposed charter arose out of that fight.

While the alliance has held public informational meetings, some members of the community have reached out to county commissioners for more information about how the charter will actually change governance in Williams County.  Among those community members who have asked commissioners for an informational meeting are those engaged in agriculture and other high water usage operations.

Bryan Times May 23, 2019

Alliance members speak in Perrysburg

Report by Ron Osburn

The members of the Williams County Alliance who addressed the Perrysburg City Council Tuesday night about the city’s plan to buy water from the Michindoh Aquifer had a single unified message: If you think 400,000 people are going to let you take their water without a fight, you’re wrong.

“This is our sole source of water.  We’re going to try everything we can to stop it,” Lou Pendleton, an Alliance member and former Bryan utilities director, said after the meeting of the plan by Artesian of Pioneer to drill into the Michindoh and sell the water to entities outside the county, including Perrysburg.

Pendleton was one of about a dozen Alliance members who traveled to Perrysburg and one of a half-dozen who spoke out against Perrysburg’s participation in AOP’s plan.

(Reader Alert:  Several paragraphs omitted)

Bryan resident and Alliance member Sherry Fleming said Wednesday that Perrysburg residents had contacted her group to come to Perrysburg to speak to council.

“One, they said there are people in Perrysburg who are not in favor of this, and second, they felt that there were other people in Perrysburg who are not aware of this (project),” she said.

The six Alliance members spoke one at a time for about 30 minutes total.  She said reaction from council ws mixed, with several listening intently and others, less so.  One member thanked the group for coming.

“It was hard to get a read on council.  One member thanked us.  A couple seemed to be listening intently while several others seemed less interested,” Fleming said Wednesday.

Perrysburg council made no decision Tuesday night.

Asked Wednesday by The Bryan Times for his thoughts about the Alliance presentations, Perrysburg Mayor Mike Maclin said the city “is continuing to evaluate options that may be available.

“I appreciate the concerns raised last night.  I certainly heard the passion, but I found the objective and fact-based part of the presentations to be as important to consider.  The issues they raised are certainly part of the equation for Perrysburg to consider when making a final decision,” Maclin said via email.

The Michindoh Aquifer is the sole source of water for about 400,000 people, businesses and agriculture users in a nine-county area of northeast Indiana, southern Michigan and northwest Ohio, including virtually all of Williams County.

Pendleton said she gave a brief background on the city of Bryan’s so-far-unsuccessful attempt, beginning about 12 years ago, to gain official designation of the Michindoh as a sole source aquifer.

The Alliance and other critics of the AOP plan said they are concerned with the amounts Kidston plans to pump from the aquifer, concerned that a private entity is trying to sell aquifer water to outside entities and concerned with potential environmental and sustainability issues.

Alliance member Andy Struble, a former city of Bryan water treatment plant operator, noted that AOP would be “mining” water from a supply currently used by 400,000 people in three states.

“(AOP) is going to take our … water supply out from under us for free and sell it to you for a profit,” Struble said.

(Reader Alert:  Several paragraphs omitted.)

Pendleton said she stressed it is “economically unfeasible” for communities currently served by the Michindoh to find alternate water sources, while Toledo suburbs like Perrysburg have two major options: the nearby Maumee River and Lake Erie.

Pendleton also said the Alliance is concerned that there are no laws to stop Kidston, or other companies, from drilling into the aquifer, and that the county’s state representatives have not yet offered possible solutions.

“Water is vital to life.  Water has generally been recognized as a public resource and it should be provided by public entities,” Pendleton said.

As a possible solution to combat AOP’s plan, the Alliance is currently collecting signatures to put a county charter initiative on the November ballot.

As a statutory county, Williams County’s governmental authority is under the power of the state.  A charter would create so-called “home rule,” in which residents would have greater say in their government — and protect the Michindoh — through the right of “initiative, referendum and recall,” Fleming said.

Bryan Times May 25, 2019

Kiwanis learns of initiative

Report by Ron Osburn

The proposed Williams County Charter Initiative will give residents greater control over their own government and the decision making process, and will better protect the Michindoh Aquifer from exploitation.

That was the message from Bryan resident Sherry Fleming, a founder and principal in the Williams County Alliance, at Wednesday’s Bryan Kiwanis Club meeting.

Fleming said the Alliance is a locally-based, non-profit, grassroots community group that has proposed the charter as a way to oppose a plan by Artesian of Pioneer to drill into the Michindoh and sell the water to a group of communities and entities outside the county.

(Reader Alert: Several paragraphs omitted)

Fleming noted that Ohio follows the “reasonable use” legal doctrine for water, drainage and subsurface water disputes.  This doctrine states that a landowner may make reasonable use of their land, even though the flow of waters could be altered and cause harm.

She noted that after consulting with attorneys, the Alliance determined filing suit to prevent the AOP plan could be expensive, and risky, because the suit could be rejected.

“We feel the risk of losing the lawsuit is not worth it,” Fleming told Kiwanians.

The alternative is the charter, which could be fashioned to give residents more local decision making power and protect the Michindoh throughout the nine-county, three-state area by giving it legal standing across county and state borders.

“You know, we usually look at laws as just and right … But there are bad laws, unjust laws … The charter is an attempt to be proactive in protecting our rights,” she said, adding the Alliance is working with the non-profit Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund on the charter.

Fleming said past attempts to put charters on the ballot or address environmental issues like fracking with local control have been shut down by the Ohio legislature or Secretary of State’s office through decisions by local elections boards.

She also noted the Ohio House of Representatives recently adopted its 2020-2021 budget with provisions that prohibit anyone, including local governments, from enforcing recognized legal rights for ecosystems.

She said that is a direct response to the historic Lake Erie Bill of Rights passed by Toledo voters in February, and could negatively impact the Alliance’s charter effort.

Fleming said the group has until late June to submit the signatures to the county board of elections.  If the charter initiative gets on the ballot and is approved, it would go into effect within 30 days.

“We’re very confident we’ll get enough signatures to put (the charter) on the ballot,” she said.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen until we submit our signatures.  But one thing we know is (the charter is) not something that’s forced on us ….  It could be voted down.  AOP’s plan is being forced on us,” Fleming said.

(Reader Alert:  Several paragraphs omitted)