By DAVID GREEN
Fulton County's mayors want more information about a proposed county water plan before giving county commissioners authorization to move forward with the next phase of the study.
Most county municipalities were represented Nov. 29 at the Fayette Opera House for a monthly meeting of Fulton County mayors. As the host for the event, Fayette mayor Ruth Marlatt opened the session with an overview of the situation and a list of questions that she has about the plan.
Water is something that most everyone takes for granted, Marlatt said, until a contamination issue arises and then it’s taken much more seriously. That's a situation Fayette faced several years ago.
County sanitary engineer Ziad Musallam spoke about the first phase of the water study at a presentation in October. The study collected data about water resources and needs among the county’s municipalities. Structure Point, the firm hired to undertake the study, wasn't present at the meeting and Marlatt said she was left with several questions, including the motivation for developing a county-wide water plan.
Marlatt wondered if the driving force is to replace the existing water contract with Toledo. The county appropriated about $2 million in 2012 to buy water from Toledo to serve Metamora, Lyons, some rural areas and industry. The county-owned water distribution system was constructed in 2010 using the federal "stimulus funds" from the Obama administration.
Marlatt pointed out that Napoleon in Henry County is included in the Fulton County report, however, Delta and Swanton are not.
"I've heard this referred to as a county plan and also as a regional plan," she said. "Which is it?"
Fayette is located above the massive Michindoh Aquifer that serves nearly two dozen communities in three states. She said it wouldn't make sense for a county water system using Maumee River water to serve Fayette with its ground water-based system.
Marlatt then asked for responses from others at the meeting.
Delta has excess water capacity, said its mayor Dan Miller, and would be pleased to sell water to a county-wide system.
"Under no circumstances do I think the Village of Delta would want to let the county operate our facilities," he said.
Delta village administrator Derek Allen said the community wasn't consulted about the water plan and that a strained relationship exists due to the county water line built to North Star Steel and to ZincOx—both of which Delta wanted to serve with water.
"We became competitors with the county," Allen said, "and I think the result of that is one of the reasons we’re not included in this document."
Miller added that a water line exists between Delta and Wauseon and the two communities have an excellent working relationship. Similar ties could be forged with other communities to create water connections that could be used in an emergency throughout the county.
Allen said he hasn't yet read the county report, but if it calls for leaving Toledo and taking over local water systems, he's not in favor of it.
"I think there's a misconception of what motivated the study to begin with," said Archbold village administrator Dennis Howell.
Howell said he isn't trying to speak for the commissioners, but he has discussed the issued extensively with commissioner Perry Rupp.
Howell said the contract with Toledo will expire in two years. Due to the poor condition of Toledo's water plant, large rate increases are expected as the city undertakes needed upgrades.
"The purpose of the study was not to create a system," Howell said. "It was to investigate the feasibility of a county system that could supply all the needs in the rural portions of the county without buying from Toledo and keeping that business and production within Fulton County."
Howell said he was responsible for suggesting that Napoleon should be included in the study because he thought it could benefit Fulton County.
"I wouldn't be in favor of the county taking over our operations, either," Howell said, but he doesn’t believe that’s the direction commissioners are taking.
Allen said if any development occurs between Wauseon and Delta, the two communities should work together to provide water. In the case of the ZincOx plant, Allen claimed the county said Delta would not even be considered since it couldn't produce enough water. Working with Wauseon, he said, sufficient water could have been furnished, but apparently that wasn't considered.
"There's going to be an opportunity when the [Toledo] contract is up for someone else to provide water," Allen said.
Howell suggested that a provincialism has occurred in Fulton County in the past. Communities don't seem to want to work together and he sees an opportunity for cooperation in a county plan.
Miller said that a regional approach, drawing water from various sources, is preferred over one centralized system.
Tim Harmsen from the Arcadis engineering firm said his observation of the situation would call for each community to serve its surrounding area. Utilize the existing assets and spread from there.
"I don't know if that's where this study is heading," he said, "but I think that's the only practical approach."
Metamora mayor Gary Loar said his community was very grateful for the federal funding that brought the water lines to the community, but he's concerned about price increases coming from Toledo. Loar said Metamora's contract calls for the village to explore alternate water sources.
Anne Roth, Swanton mayor, wonders what the commissioners are proposing if the Toledo contract is not renewed. The study is just a first step in exploring options, Howell said. Fulton County must give an advanced notice before ending the Toledo contract and commissioners face a March 2013 deadline to decide.
Miller asked for excess capacity figures from those present and determined there's about 10 million gallons a day that could be available from Delta, Wauseon, Archbold and Swanton.
"Cooperatively we could supply the county," said Swanton administrator Jon Gochenour.
Howell said the legislation for a county-wide water district is actually already in place. He believes the commissioners are looking for a recommendation from the mayors: Should we move forward with Phase II?
"Phase II would tell us what we really want to know and the cost of interconnecting the communities," Howell said.
Marlatt said approval would have to come from the individual councils, but more specifics are needed before a decision could be made.
"We need a statement from [the commissioners] to know exactly what part they expect each of us to play in this," she said.
Wauseon mayor Doug Shaw stated the commissioners should ask the communities what they would like them to do before they announce what the county is going to do.
"They should be facilitating us rather than going in competition with areas," he said, referring to Delta's situation.
Marlatt said she didn't invite the commissioners to the mayors meeting because she thought it was important for community leaders to first discuss the issue among themselves before approaching the county.
Most of the discussion focused on management of water resources, but former Fayette administrator Tom Spiess spoke about future usage possibilities. Spiess said that people should keep in mind that other water demands might be on the horizon that aren't seen now. If gas and oil exploration came into the county, fracking uses six million gallons of water each time it's done, and that's water not returned to usable groundwater sources. Water demands for agriculture are also increasing in some regions due to an increased interest in irrigation.
Shaw said he would speak with Commissioner Rupp and perhaps a discussion with mayors could be added to the commission's January meeting.
"We can express our concerns," he said, "and then we'll have information to take to our councils."