ODA Director Visits Grand Lake

Staff Writer

CELINA — On Monday afternoon, the new director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, Dorothy Pelanda, stopped by the Mercer County Government Building to hear from locals about the agriculture and water quality issues they are seeing in the area. Also in attendance was 84th District Rep. Susan Manchester, who was recently assigned to the Ohio Agriculture Committee.
During the hour-long meeting, Pelanda heard questions and comments from stakeholders about their concerns about what will happen, in terms of government rule, with Grand Lake St. Marys.
The Lake Erie Bill of Rights
Dan Harpster from Waynesfield asked Pelanda to explain what the new Bill of Rights for Lake Erie means and how it could affect producers in Grand Lake St. Marys. Pelanda explained that the Bill of Rights gave citizens of Toledo the ability to sue farmers and producers on behalf of the lake if they believe that person is responsible for pollution in Lake Erie.
Pelanda also noted that there are a few ways farmers can protect themselves if such a lawsuit came their way.
“This week our department has issued pamphlets to the soil and water conservation districts in each county giving them the following information: that farmers, as of this point, have what is called affirmative defenses, created in law, that can defeat these kinds of lawsuits,” she said. “Those affirmative defenses include the following: if your farm is part of an agricultural district, that is an affirmative defense in this kind of lawsuit that will defeat a claim … Also, if you as a farmer having engaged in soil testing and nutrient management plans, those are also affirmative defenses to any kind of such lawsuit.”
Communication between residents, farmers and the soil and water district
Kate Anderson, president of the Guardians of Grand Lake St. Marys, asked the director how are individuals who live in the Grand Lake Watershed supposed to know what manure management plans are and who is managing them properly. She claimed that when she has attempted to request information much of it ends up being redacted, to the point where she has stacks of paper with nothing on them.
Anderson also said that from her perspective the lake didn’t appear to be getting better, but actually worse. Pelanda pointed out that knowing what to ask for and understanding the information that is being presented are very important when dealing with problems like the algal bloom in Grand Lake.
“When we talk about algal blooms we have to be very specific because technically we did not see an algal bloom, a significant algal bloom last year, here on Grand Lake St. Marys,” Pelanda explained. “That doesn’t mean we don’t have an algae problem. Part of the problem is talking correctly about what the situation is. There is so much — and I’m sure you will all agree — misinformation about what is going on as well as information.”
President Donald Trump’s Water Infrastructure Bill
Buzz Goodwin, a multi-business owner along Grand Lake, wondered why no one was going after the money President Trump allocated last year for water projects.
The American Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 authorized $1.5 trillion for repairing and upgrading American infrastructure.
Ag Solutions Coordinator for Mercer County, Theresa Dirksen, said she would be more than interested in figuring out how to get her hands on that money, but claimed she hasn’t seen how to apply to get that funding.

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