Shared from the 3/15/2019 Sandusky Register eEdition

TOLEDO | BUDGET PROPOSAL

DeWine announces plan for clean water fund

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Register file photo/ERIN CALDWELL

A calm, sunny day along Lake Erie in Port Clinton on Nov. 20, 2018.

TOLEDO

Gov. Mike DeWine announced Thursday he is proposing a new water quality fund to spend $900 million over 10 years.

The governor said it will be included in the budget proposal he’s releasing today.

DeWine said he wants some of the money to go for restoring wetlands. That appears to open up a possible source of funding for the city of Sandusky, which has drawn up plans with state officials for restoring wetlands in the Sandusky Bay area.

The governor unveiled details of his H2Ohio Initiative in a Thursday morning speech before the Impact Ohio Toledo Regional Conference, hosted at the Renaissance Toledo Downtown Hotel.

“Lake Erie is a magnificent jewel,” the governor said. “We have to preserve it. We have to protect it.”

He also pushed for approval of his entire proposed 18 cents a gallon gas tax hike, saying that an Ohio House bill approving a tax hike of about 10 cents falls short of what’s needed.

Last year, state Rep. Steve Arndt, R-Port Clinton, and former state Sen. Randy Gardner proposed a statewide bond issue for water quality projects. The proposal didn’t gain support from Gov. John Kasich, but Mike DeWine promised to support it during his campaign for governor.

DeWine mentioned that during his speech Thursday, but said he’d decided to go in a different direction for the funding source.

Rather than borrow money with a bond issue, DeWine said he’d prefer to set aside $900 million this year to be spent over 10 years, with $85 million to be spent the first year, saving the state the cost of repaying interest.

While the governor said he wants to pay for water quality projects all over Ohio, he said he would emphasize Lake Erie, which has been battling a harmful algal bloom problem.

“We cannot continue to lurch from water crisis to water crisis,” said DeWine, who told his Toledo audience he hasn’t forgotten the city’s 2014 water crisis. “It’s really going to take a dedicated, long-term commitment to achieve real solutions.”

The governor mentioned he wants to spend some of the H2Ohio money to rebuild wetlands, which help filter out the nutrients that feed harmful algal blooms.

That sounded like good news for Eric Wobser, Sandusky’s city manager. Sandusky and the Office of Coastal Management have been working on a Sandusky Bay Initiative to restore local wetlands.

Those plans will be completed in six months, Wobser said.

“They will be finished in time for next year’s budget,” said Wobser, who vowed to pursue any available state funds.

When DeWine met with reporters after his speech, he was asked if he would consider additional regulation to deal with the water runoff that feeds algal blooms in the lake.

“We’ll look at this as we move forward,” he said.

DeWine said he would listen to experts and said he’ll also listen to the farm community, an important part of the Ohio economy.

“I would envision incentives for them to make sure they are farming in a manner that does not cause as much nutrients to flow into the lake,” DeWine said.

The governor told his audience he’ll continue to push for the full 18 cents a gallon gas tax hike he’s proposed and said he considers that a conservative proposal.

He said the previous administration made up for the shortfall in road funds by borrowing money. Ohio now has a $4 billion transportation debt, and the state’s credit card for roads is “maxed out,” he said.

New money is needed for new construction, and to target roads that are safety hazards, he said.

Everybody in the audience can probably name a dangerous intersection or road near their home, and wonders, “Why don’t they fix it?” DeWine said.

The audience chuckled when DeWine added, “I’m ‘they’ now.”

“There’s nothing more important than making sure our family members get home,” DeWine said.

DeWine and his wife, Fran, have had eight children. One of them, Rebecca A. DeWine, 22, died in an automobile accident in 1993.

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