Lawmaker: City residents deserve voice in Lake Erie's fate

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Toledo area Democrat said it’s not only farmers who deserve a voice in lake policy.

TOLEDO — Farmers in Ohio aren’t the only people who deserve a seat at the table when the future of Lake Erie is discussed, a Toledo lawmaker said.

State Rep Michael Sheehy, D-Oregon, said he’s concerned people in cities won’t be represented when lawmakers form a new committee to study harmful algal blooms in western Lake Erie.

People in cities who need clean water need to be as well-represented as special interest groups, Sheehy said.

“I was there in 2014 when my community lost access to water for three days,” Sheehy said.

“Since then, area residents have paid the price and dealt with serious consequences to a crisis they did not create. At the same time, the companies causing the pollution are refusing to act unless taxpayer dollars are going to pay for it. If legislators listened to working-class families the way they do special interests, we would have seen serious action long ago.”

Gov. John Kasich issued an executive order on July 11 imposing new regulations on eight drainage basins in northwest Ohio blamed for releasing large amounts of pollutants into the lake.

The Ohio Farm Bureau and their Republican allies in the Ohio General Assembly have criticized the move, calling for more study first,  and the Ohio Soil and Water Conservation Commission has delayed any action for months.

More recently, House and Senate leaders said they’ll create a study group to look at agriculture and Lake Erie.

Legislative leaders haven’t released any details on the study group, such as the members. That information will be released soon, said Carolyn Best, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Ryan Smith.

“Access to clean water is a fundamental right for all Ohioans, and unless we act swiftly, our lake is in real trouble,” said Sheehy.

“Though I disagree with the need for another study— we know the causes and best practices to contain this crisis — it is my hope that committee leaders appoint members representing the victims of this crisis instead of stacking the deck in favor of special interests.”

Kasich, also not a fan of further delay, has said he was forced to issue the order when lawmakers make it clear they won’t take serious action.

Reach reporter Tom Jackson at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @jacksontom.