What did We do?

Bryan Times, Dec. 8, 2018 (report by Ron Osburn, Letters of protest go to governor: Alliance sends Michindoh protest letters to Kasich)  The Williams County Alliance on Thursday mailed a box containing about 650 signed letters to Columbus asking the governor to take action to protect the Michindoh Aquifer.

The signed form letters were collected over the past month and mailed by the Williams County Alliance, the local residents group that has been at the forefront of efforts to oppose a plan by Artesian of Pioneer and owner Ed Kidston to drill into the aquifer and sell its water to entities outside the county.

Kidston has said he is interested in selling anywhere from 4 million to 14 million gallons a day to up to nine entities in Henry, Fulton and Lucas counties.  He is currently drilling test wells on property he owns near Fayette.

Sherry Fleming of the Alliance said the motivation is to continue to bring pressure on elected officials to take some action to protect the aquifer, an underground water source that provides water to about 400,000 people in nine counties in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan, including virtually all of Williams County.

“We’re making a statement,” Fleming said Wednesday.

Fleming said the letters were available for download on the Alliance Facebook page and printed copies were at various community events, such as the Nov. 15 presentation by Trine University Professor Jeremy Rentz at the Pioneer Community Center.

The letter, addressed to outgoing Gov. John Kasich, says “I am adamantly opposed to the plan by Artesian of Pioneer to sell water from the Michindoh Aquifer to communities in the greater Toledo area.”

The letter also said the “existing Ohio regulatory process through the Ohio EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and ODNR (Ohio Department of Natural Resources) does not consider the impact of continuous water withdrawals upon the sustainability of an aquifer, adding :The current lack of scientific certainty should not be the excuse for postponing measures to protect the aquifer.  Privatization of our water benefits one company and endangers hundreds of thousands of residents and could lead to many more large water withdrawal projects from the Michindoh Aquifer.”

“What we’re saying is the systems in place right now to protect the aquifer are inadequate.  The aquifer provides water for 400,000 but we don’t seem to have a voice or any input.  We want to have a say in this,” Fleming said.

She also said the original intent was to hand-deliver the letters to the governor’s office and she called the office Nov. 21 to explain what the group watned to do.  Fleming said she was transferred to another person and left a voicemail that was never returned.  She called Nov. 30 and was told she couldn’t deliver the letters in person due to security concerns.  She called a third time and left a voicemail but has not received a return call.  A phone call to the governor’s office Wednesday by The Bryan Times also has not been returned.

Alliance members Lyle and Angela Brigle, of Edon, delivered the box containing the letters to the Bryan post office Thursday.

“You have to start somewhere.  We’re hoping to get the attention of our elected officials.  Our legislators are not doing anything.  We want to put some laws in place to protect the aquifer and protect us,” Lyle said.

The letter also urges the governors of Indiana and Michigan to come together to protect the Michindoh “in the same manner that the Great Lakes Compact provides to the Great Lakes Basin,” and Fleming said similar grassroots letter campaigns are going on in Indiana and Michigan.

Susan Catterall, of the Hamilton Lake area in Steuben County, who is organizing the letter campaign in Indiana, said her group is in talks with their state senator to have their letters delivered to the Indiana governor.

“If that does not work out, we will be mailing them within two weeks,” Catterall said, adding that her group used social media, phone calls, personal delivery and email to get letters to people throughout northwestern Indiana.

She said they have about 420 letters and she expects to receive more in the coming weeks.

“We hope our letters encourage our governor to at least contact the governors of Ohio and Michigan and start a dialogue on the aquifer.  We hope that dialogue leads to legislation so the aquifer is protected and our children don’t have to every worry about this,” said Catterall, who has voiced her opposition to Kidston at past Pioneer Village Council meetings.  Kidston is also mayor of Pioneer.

In Michigan, Rachel Yoder, of Waldron, is also organizing a letter campaign, using the form letter from the Alliance.  She said she has about 100 signed letters to date, and plans to continue to collect letters until after the new year, when a new Michigan governor-elect, Gretchen Whitmer, takes office.

Fleming said while Kasich is leaving at the end of the year and a new Ohio governor, Mike DeWine, is coming in, it’s still important to get the letters to the governor’s office now so they can be forwarded on to DeWine.

ELECTED OFFICIALS

Williams County Commissioner Brian Davis is part of an effort to bring together county commissioners and other elected officials in nine counties in three states that get water from the Michindoh to address Michindoh issues.

Davis said Wednesday he is working with Williams County’s two state legislators, Sen. Rob McColley (R-1), of Napoleon, and Rep. Jim Hoops (R-81 of Napoleon, to facilitate future meetings with state officials.

Davis said the group has identified the Ohio-Kentucky-Indian OKI Regional Council of Governments as a possible governmental model for local officials to use to pursue action.

Davis explained the OKI organization is a tri-state council of local governments, business organizations and community groups committed to developing collaborative strategies to improve the quality of life and the economic vitality of that region.

He said local officials right now are in the process of trying to secure a copy of the bylaws of the OKI Regional Council of Governments to use as a guide for local officials.

“We’d like to copy theirs, rather than have to create a new one, which could be more costly and time-consuming,” Davis said.

But he also acknowledged, “it’s the holiday season” and there may be no action until after the beginning of the new year.

“I think things are progressing forward. I think we’ll see some things start happening after the beginning of the new year,” David said.

In addition, a Sept. 22 meeting in Columbus to address Michindoh issues with state officials was initiated by Bryan Mayor Carrie Schlade and Commissioner Davis, and facilitated by McColley and Hoops.

The meeting also included a representative from Re. Craig S. Riedel’s (R-Defiance) House District 82 office, Jim Watson of Watson Well Drilling in Bryan, and deputy directors of the Ohio EPA and the ODNR, and senior staff members and legal team representatives from both agencies.

Schlade said she cam away from the September meeting in Columbus with strong assurances that state government is very much aware of the region’s opposition to the Artesian of Pioneer’s plan.

“I think when we walked into the room and we started seeing who was coming in,” said Schlade, “we realized they had brought the right people and that they were taking this as serious as we are.”