Government

BG officials want answers about Nexus pipeline spill

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Nexus pipeline officials have some explaining to do. Bowling Green officials were satisfied with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s response to a spill last month of 20,000 gallons of non-toxic drilling fluid north of the city. But the response of the pipeline company has left the city with some questions. For example, City Council members Daniel Gordon and Greg Robinette have asked: – When did the spill happen? Ohio EPA officials have said the spill was reported on July 17. However, emails from Nexus officials have stated the spill occurred on July 16. – How quickly did Nexus report the spill? Was the reporting done in a reasonable timeframe? – What kind of bentonite was involved in the spill? Though non-toxic, if it was the acidic form, are measures being taken to mitigate and monitor potential harm? – Does the Ohio EPA consider the Nexus decision to halt cleanup efforts at night a reasonable response? – Should Nexus crews have been prepared to work through the night? When contacted by Bowling Green Independent News about some of these questions, Nexus officials declined to talk on the phone and asked for the questions to be submitted in writing. A Nexus emailed statement said the pipeline company “remains committed to safe and environmentally responsible practices, including constructing the project in accordance with applicable environmental permitting requirements.” Though previous emails from Nexus stated the spill occurred on July 16, when asked about the conflicting dates, Adam Parker, who handles stakeholder engagement for Nexus gas transmission, changed the date to July 17 at approximately 6 p.m. The Ohio EPA has stated that Nexus crew members left the scene of the spill rather than continuing to clean up. Parker stated the Nexus crews temporarily suspended activities due to safety concerns related to working along the busy road after dark. When asked if Nexus has a policy in place requiring workers to continue with cleanup until it is completed, Parker responded with the following statement: “The project’s various plans and permits were filed and approved by state and federal agencies prior to the beginning of construction. On the evening of the spill, NEXUS promptly notified the Ohio EPA, installed multiple layers of containment and worked to complete the recovery of clay and water in accordance with those plans. Nexus crews returned the following morning to continue the cleanup to the OEPA’s satisfaction. NEXUS communicated all steps taken to Ohio EPA throughout the response effort and the Ohio EPA determined that recovery efforts were complete and no further action was required.” However, the pipeline is being fined by the Ohio EPA not only for spilling 20,000 gallons of drilling fluid, but will also be billed by the EPA for cleanup of the fluid, since the pipeline workers did not stay on the scene to clean up the spill. The drilling fluid spill into Liberty Hi ditch occurred when Nexus crews were installing the natural gas pipeline under the ditch, which is a tributary of the Maumee River. The non-toxic drilling fluid – consisting of bentonite and water – impacted approximately three-quarters of a mile of the ditch, according to James Lee, media relations manager for the Ohio EPA. Bentonite is a naturally occurring clay that is commonly used in…


Cheap parking in downtown BG may soon expire

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Patience has expired with the current parking meter fees to pay for downtown park lot expenses. So on Monday evening, Bowling Green City Council will hear the first reading of an ordinance to double the parking fees from 25 cents to 50 cents per hour. The price hike is proposed because the current parking rates are failing to pay for on-street and off-street public parking expenses in the downtown, explained Assistant Municipal Administrator Joe Fawcett. All the nickels, dimes and quarters – plus a portion of the parking fines – are supposed to pay for the parking paving, maintenance, enforcement personnel and equipment, parking meters, kiosks, and taxes on the lots. The downtown parking fund gets no support from other city funds. The city’s 2018 budget projected a $21,000 deficit in the parking fund. That hole was filled by the fund’s balance, but that balance is dropping steadily, Fawcett said Friday afternoon. Also looming over the parking budget is the fact that three of the four downtown parking lots need to be paved soon. The only one to be repaved since 2000 is Lot 2,  behind Panera. The proposed fee hikes should not come as a surprise to downtown merchants or the organization which represents them, Fawcett said. “We’ve been trying to tell people as much as we can,” he said. “This is the culmination of conversations over the last couple years.” Downtown businesses were advised of the proposed parking fee hike on City Council’s agenda. “No one seemed surprised by that,” Fawcett said. City officials hope customers coming downtown are not put off by the doubling of the parking fee. Though some may try to avoid pay parking, Fawcett said Bowling Green’s parking will still be a bargain compared to other cities in the region. “We looked around the entire area. Even at 50 cents an hour, we are very competitive,” he said. For at least six years, the parking lot revenue has had difficulty keeping up with the expenses, Fawcett said. In 2013 and 2015, the revenue “just barely” surpassed expenses. In 2014, the city broke even. The last three years, the expenses have been higher than the incoming coins. “It has always been close,” he said. The parking fees, plus a portion of the parking ticket revenue averages about $220,000 a year, Fawcett said. The fee hike is expected to help the fund recover. “I think it would likely provide a temporary relief for that fund,” he said. The parking ticket fees will not be increased. But the long-term parking charges used by apartment renters or businesses downtown are proposed to double. For example, the rate for one space for half a year will jump from $130 to $260. The city’s goal was to gradually change all downtown city parking lots to kiosks rather than metered parking. The lot behind Panera is the city’s first experiment with parking kiosks. “Our desire is to make paying for parking as easy as possible for people,” Fawcett said. If kiosk parking is expanded to other city lots, it’s doubtful it will be the same type as already used in Lot 2, he said. At that point, Lot 2 would be retrofitted to be the same as the other lots. “The ones we…


Lawmakers quizzed on Lake Erie, school testing, gas taxes

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   When local officials had a chance to quiz their state legislators Wednesday, there were more questions than time for answers. Lawmakers were asked about some hot button issues like Lake Erie efforts, school testing, gas taxes, and the state’s growing rainy day fund. Fielding the questions were State Senator Randy Gardner and State Rep. Theresa Gavarone, both R-Bowling Green, plus Ohio state representatives Jim Hoops, Derek Merrin, Mike Sheehy, and Michigan state representative Jason Sheppard. Asking the questions were members of the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments, during the organization’s summer caucuses with state lawmakers at Penta Career Center. Acting as moderator was Wood County Commissioner Doris Herringshaw, current chairperson of TMACOG. Tim Brown, executive director of TMACOG, said the agency has a 50-year history of going beyond politics to solve problems. “We lay the politics aside, put the partisanship at the door, and talk,” Brown said. The first question was about state efforts to stop harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie. While actions already taken have been appreciated, the local officials wanted to know “What’s next?” Gardner acknowledged that the work on Lake Erie is far from over. “There is no misunderstanding that we’ve done all that we can do,” he said. “We can find a way to do more and do better. We must.” Gardner said he hasn’t given up on a proposal to create a clean water bond issue. “Quite frankly, we haven’t received strong support from the governor to go forward,” he said. But Gardner is hopeful the bond issue can be revisited next year. Sheehy said environmental groups are “tired of failure” as the state struggles to find solutions. “We’ve all been saying this a long time. More needs to be done.” School officials asked about state testing requirements for students. Gavarone said testing requirements have been reduced, but more needs to be done to get timely feedback to teachers and parents, so they know how to help students. Gardner added that any testing requirements that aren’t federally mandated need to be reviewed. “They should be questioned and scrutinized as to their value,” he said. The legislators were asked about the state’s role in helping with workforce development. While Merrin said it isn’t the state legislature’s job to help create workforces, Gavarone and Gardner both offered other perspectives. Gavarone said students should be exposed to construction trades early on. “Kids need to be aware of the multitude of paths available to them after graduation,” she said. Gardner agreed that four-year colleges are just one option for Ohio’s youth. “I’m for an all-of-the-above education policy,” he said, noting the quality apprenticeship and training programs in the region. However, Gardner also said that four-year degrees still offer students the best long-run success. He suggested that the audience Google to find unemployment rates based on higher education. “You will still see the unemployment rate go down and the wages go up,” with higher degrees, he said. “We owe our children to give them the best opportunities.” Local officials also wanted to know when state leaders are going to share in some of the wealth of the state’s growing rainy day fund. Gardner said he considers local government to be an extension of state government. “We should look at what…


Daniel Gordon attends national convention of young elected officials

SUBMITTED BY DANIEL GORDON This past weekend, Bowling Green City Council Member Daniel Gordon met with fellow elected officials and national leaders in Seattle at the 13th annual National Convening of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network. At the convening, which is the largest gathering of young elected leaders in the country, Gordon participated in issue-based training sessions with nearly 100 fellow progressive elected officials from across the nation to learn best practices for community protection and improvement at the state and local level, and create proactive strategies to bring back to all 50 states. Gordon, 28, was elected to City Council in 2011, re-elected in 2013, 2015, and 2017, and has been a member of the Young Elected Officials Network since April 2015. Gordon brought his own unique perspective to the convening, sharing his experience working for social and economic justice in Bowling Green, including his advocacy for neighborhood revitalization and housing equity; enhancing transportation infrastructure, including bicycle lanes; creating more living-wage jobs, restoring local government funding, and ensuring a diversified local economy; investing in more clean and renewable energy sources; and defending local marginalized communities. “It’s remarkable how so many of our challenges in Bowling Green are shared by folks in local governments all across the country,” Gordon said. “I came back to Bowling Green re-energized to work with Mayor Edwards and my colleagues on Council to implement cutting-edge solutions to the policy problems we face here at home.” The Young Elected Officials (YEO) Network, a project of People For the American Way Foundation, is the first and only national initiative to provide a network of support to the newest generation of progressive leaders at every level of elected office. Over the last decade, the YEO Network has grown to more than 1,200 members in every state and at every level of office. The YEO Network is a cutting-edge program investing in the pipeline of progressive leadership and building sustained relationships with its members. It provides the resources young elected officials need to effectively impact policy, foster their own development and professional growth, and elevate their voices and their leadership in the broader progressive movement. At the convening, young elected officials discussed policy solutions and were immersed in solutions-based innovation labs on education, sustainability, economic opportunity, and social justice. Speakers and panels also tackled issues related to women’s equality and workers’ rights. Attendees heard from distinguished speakers including: •    Cyrus Habib, 16th Lieutenant Governor of Washington •    Danica Roem, Virginia House Delegate, 16th District •    Manka Dhingra, Washington State Senator, 45th District “I am excited about the opportunities that convening weekend provide both to the elected officials who will join us in Seattle and to communities around the country,” said Svante Myrick, Ithaca Mayor and director of youth leadership programs at People For the American Way Foundation. “No other space exists where young, visionary elected officials from every corner of our country come together to discuss issues critical to our communities and then work together to form common-sense, bold solutions. This weekend’s discussions have tremendous potential and are sorely needed – now more than ever.”


BG sees success attracting tourists & their spending

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Wendy Chambers has long been saying that tourism brings big bucks into Bowling Green. Now she has the official numbers to back that up. Chambers, executive director of the Bowling Green Convention & Visitors Bureau, reported to City Council Monday evening that Bowling Green is attracting more visitors. In 2017, BG hotels saw an increase in room rentals of 6.62 percent, with revenue up 8 percent from the previous year. For the first time the state’s study of the economic impact from tourism gave specific numbers just for Bowling Green. According to study, tourism created: $110.9 million in visitor spending in the local economy. $30.2 million in wages. $12.6 million in taxes. 1,527 in employment – or one in every 13 jobs. “Bowing Green is alive and well – and doing well,” Chambers said. The study found that tourism creates jobs in Bowling Green, estimating it sustains 7.8 percent of private employment. The benefits span across various businesses, such as transportation, recreation, retail, lodging, plus food and beverage industries. Of the counties in Northwest Ohio, Wood County ranks third of 22 counties for tourism impact. Ranking first was Lucas County, followed by Erie County in second place. Wood County racked up $504 million in visitor spending, 6,598 jobs with total wages of $139.6 million, and $63.5 million generated in tax revenue in 2017. Recent trends in Bowling Green tourism show a growth in visitor spending from $82.1 million in 2015 to $88.1 million in 2017. In addition to the tourism numbers, Chambers was also excited about the city’s “Best of BG: A Hometown Celebration” planned for Thursday, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., at Simpson Garden Park. The event will recognize the city’s second time in the last decade of being named one of Ohio’s Best Hometowns by Ohio Magazine. “It’s a week of celebrations,” Chambers said. The next project for the Convention & Visitors Bureau will be to work with various businesses and groups on designing a “community brand.” “We’re pretty excited about that,” she said. Also at Monday’s meeting, Mayor Dick Edwards recognized Margaret Montague for her service on the city’s Human Relations Commission. “What you have done for our Human Relations Commission is nothing short of truly outstanding,” Edwards said to Montague, who has served on the commission since 2011. “You’ve been so generous with your time.” Montague headed the Welcome BG Task Force, which puts an emphasis on local employment opportunities for legal immigrants, the mayor said. The effort is helping to meet manpower needs by “putting out the welcome mat.” During her time on the commission, Montague has been “impartial and compassionate” and has worked for “community harmony and well-being,” Edwards said. In accepting her citation from the mayor, Montague said, “I have a confession.” When asked to join the commission seven years ago, she had lived internationally for so long that she had to look up exactly what the Human Relations Commission was. “It has been an honor and a privilege to serve,” Montague said. In other business, Edwards read a proclamation dedicating July as Parks and Recreation Month. He presented the proclamation to Parks and Recreation Department Director Kristin Otley and park board member Cale Hover. The mayor praised the parks and “vast array of recreational…


Search for water extends west to wells, north to Detroit

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   As Lake Erie starts to take on a green tint again this summer, entities north of Bowling Green are  scouting for quality, affordable water – with no clear source in sight. So the search continues, now shifting west to an underground water source, and north to Detroit. Proposals change by the week, according to representatives of the Northwestern Water and Sewer District, who recently updated the Wood County Commissioners on the issue affecting much of the northern half of the county. The district provides water to 6,500 customers in Northwood, Rossford, Walbridge, Lake Township, Perrysburg Township and Troy Township. The water is purchased from the city of Toledo – and future contracts with the city are on shaky ground. The proposed Toledo Area Water Authority – which many had pinned their hopes on as a solution that would work for the entire region – appears to be dead in the water, according to Jerry Greiner, executive director of the district. Toledo balked at the idea of sharing ownership of its water plant, even though it meant other entities would then help with the towering expenses to update the plant. “Whether you’re the city of Toledo or Bloomdale, cities don’t want to give up their utilities,” said Rex Huffman, attorney for the district. But the district, Huffman said, sees the water customers as the owners – not the city. With the sinking of the TAWA plan, Toledo is now offering another possible option. Last week, Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz talked about establishing a regional water commission with representatives from each community that buys Toledo’s water. The commission would then set water rates for all customers based on the true cost of service and would make decisions about capital improvements. The district is willing to consider any viable option, Greiner and Huffman said. “Some easily dismiss it, and say ‘I don’t want to deal with Toledo.’ But I think that’s a mistake,” Huffman said. The district may support this concept if it meets the long-term goal of reasonable, uniform, fair water rates, Greiner said. Water customers in Wood County share one priority. “That’s the number in the lower right hand corner of their bill,” Huffman said. Toledo rates have always been the lowest in the region – but major improvements are needed at the water plant, Greiner said. Bowling Green and Oregon rates are good, but both would need expansions to serve the district. So the district is continuing to consider all its water options, Greiner said. That includes a groundwater source through Artesian of Pioneer, in the northwest corner of Ohio. “They happen to be sitting on one of the largest fresh water aquifers in our part of the world,” Huffman said of the aquifer that extends into Michigan. “They tell us it’s an underground Lake Erie – that’s how big it is.” The district and other area entities in search of water are even looking as far away as Detroit. Unlike Lake Erie, where the algal blooms are showing up again this summer, Lake Huron has no harmful algae. The city of Detroit is sitting on extra water, since industries are using less water, and there are fewer residents to serve. The city of Sylvania is leaning pretty seriously toward Detroit water,…


New hotel going up in BG where Victory Inn came down

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   A new hotel is being built on the site of the defeated Victory Inn in Bowling Green. The owner of the Victory Inn – Jamal Garmo of Michigan – is building a new Home 2 Suites by Hilton, which specializes in extended stays. The old Victory Inn was demolished in 2015 after nearly five years of Bowling Green and Wood County Health Department officials trying to get hotel to clean up issues. The hotel, at 1630 E. Wooster St., was frequently the source of complaints about bedbugs, plumbing and electrical problems, the lack of smoke alarms and cleanliness violations. Garmo approached the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals in 2016, since the new hotel exceeds the city’s height and story limits. His request was for a variance to allow construction of a 107-room hotel on the eastern portion of the seven acres that previously housed Victory Inn. The proposed hotel is 65 feet tall, five feet taller than allowed, and five stories high, one story higher than allowed in B-2 general commercial zoning The request was initially turned down. By building upward, the 107-room hotel would have a much smaller footprint than the two-story Victory Inn which had 103 rooms, the developer said. The developer also said the smaller footprint of the taller hotel will allow for other businesses on the seven-acre site. He said the remainder of the property could possibly be “mixed use” with some retail, office and residential. Garmo filed an appeal of the city’s decision, stating the denial was “unconstitutional, arbitrary, capricious and an unreasonable exercise of discretion.” The appeal also stated the denial posed an “unreasonable hardship” against Garmo. In November of 2016, the city changed the zoning language to allow a hotel to have five floors, as long as the height of the building did not exceed 60 feet.


BG may try electric credit to jolt industrial growth

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Bowling Green officials hope a new electric credit may get some industries charged up to increase their power usage. The Board of Public Utilities recently discussed adoption of a development electric rate rider, which would give a short-term savings to medium large industries that expand their electric use. There are about 80 industries in the city that would qualify. The industries would have to increase electric usage by at least 10 percent, plus sign an economic development agreement with the city. It hasn’t yet been determined if the credit would extend for three or five years. But each year of the program, the credit would reduce. For example, during the first year the company could get 30 percent credit. That could decrease to 20 percent the second year, and 10 percent in the third. The ultimate goal – in additional to selling more electricity – is to create more jobs in Bowling Green, according to Brian O’Connell, director of public utilities for the city. Vehtek, for example, has upped its electric use to 9 megawatts, and has increased its workforce to about 750 people, O’Connell said. The largest electric users in the city are Bowling Green State University, Vehtek and Southeastern Container. Increased electric sales would also help the entire city, he added. The credit would also be offered to new businesses. “That may be why somebody might want to be here,” O’Connell said. “By bringing in a new customer, it helps the existing customers as well.” The board will continue to discuss the issue at its July meetings. Also at the public utilities meeting, the board agreed to advertise for bids for tree trimming and removal services. The four-year contract with Nelson tree service is coming to an end at the close of 2018. Trimming of trees helps reduce power outages caused by fallen limbs, O’Connell said. The contract has four one-year cycles, with each ward in the city being done at a time. Nelson is in Ward 1 this year. The budget includes $110,000 for this service, O’Connell said. The board also approved a renewal of the city’s contract for wastewater collection and treatment to the village of Portage, located south of Bowling Green. The agreement has been in place since 1991, but the village has started to exceed its limit of 75,000 gallons a day. Portage has its own wastewater collection system that pumps as far at the city lines at Dunbridge and East Gypsy Lane roads. The town also has a company that wants to expand its use of the wastewater system, so increased capacity is needed Portage Mayor Mark Wolford said. The new contract would double the gallons per day to 150,000. The village will pay about $74,000 a year to Bowling Green. Portage officials will discuss the contract soon.


Good news: County getting 1,000 new jobs; Bad news: Region running out of workers

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Wood County is having a banner year in business expansions – creating nearly 1,000 new jobs. But the issue waiting in the wings is the low unemployment level in the region, wavering between 3 and 4 percent. While that low rate is great news to employees, it is also worrisome to economic development officials. “It’s a good thing. But there is going to be a time when new businesses slow down looking at Northwest Ohio,” Wade Gottschalk, executive director of the Wood County Economic Development Commission, said Thursday morning during his quarterly report to the county commissioners. But right now, Wood County is reveling in the news that four manufacturing plants are expanding here: First Solar, in Lake Township, investing $400 million and creating 500 jobs. Walgreens, in Perrysburg Township, investing $80 million and creating 350 jobs. Continental Structural Plastics, in North Baltimore, creating 100 jobs. Equity Meats, in Bloom Township, creating 50 jobs. “It’s been a very busy start for the year,” Gottschalk told the commissioners. And three other businesses have shown great interest in locating in the county, making multiple visits here, he added. “There are three percolating through the system,” Gottschalk said, without revealing the business names. Wood County has an estimated 60,000 people in its labor force. So 600 jobs is about 1 percent of the unemployment rate, he explained. That means the county’s ability to attract new industry will become more challenging. Gottschalk predicted that companies with upper tier wages will still be able to attract employees, but others may struggle to fill positions. “It will make it more difficult to attract average-pay employers,” he said. Existing companies in Wood County are already having trouble filling empty positions, Gottschalk said. “The available labor force is relatively small,” he said. For years, Ohio has been attractive to prospective employers because of the strong work ethic associated with employees. “Ohio has a very good reputation for its labor force,” Gottschalk said. “It just doesn’t have enough.” The state is seeing its older population grow, and its younger population not being replenished. “There are a lot of people looking at the labor situation,” he said. “We have an aging population and a very low growth rate. There will be a smaller labor force to draw on in the future,” Gottschalk said. In order to promote manufacturing jobs to young prospective workers in Wood County, the economic development office is holding its second annual Manufacturing Camp this summer. The students will work with people from NASA, Penta Career Center robotics, and First Solar. The kids will also tour four local manufacturing plants: Owens-Illinois, Lubrizol, Home Depot distribution center, and Northwood Industries.


BG struggles to find right words for charter preamble

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Bowling Green officials are debating how to best reflect the city’s values in the fewest words possible in the preamble of the city charter. The charter has long been limited to addressing city governance. But during a recent review by a charter update committee, it was suggested that the preamble say more about exactly what Bowling Green stands for. The committee recommended that council create a statement about non-discrimination to place in the preamble. So council members Daniel Gordon, chair of the Community Improvement Committee, Bill Herald and John Zanfardino took a stab Monday evening at coming up with a little language that says a lot about the city. “We want to set out foundational language for what the city is supposed to be about,” Gordon said. “We want to define who we are as a people and what the community stands for,” he said. Here is the current city charter preamble: “We the people of Bowling Green, in the county of Wood, and in the State of Ohio, desirous of securing for our city and for ourselves and our children the advantages of self-government conferred by the home-rule provisions of the Ohio constitution, do hereby ordain and establish the following charter. Here are five proposals for additional wording that were presented Monday evening. Mayor Dick Edward’s: …. “and in keeping with the City of Bowling Green’s determination to be a welcoming city, a city that adheres to practices of non-discrimination as established by law, a city committed to neighborhood livability and a city that embraces energy sustainability” … Council member Daniel Gordon’s: … “and determined to be a welcoming, inclusive community with strong neighborhoods and equitable quality of life; to serve the common good; and thereby to ensure the safety and freedom of all the people of Bowling Green, who seek to live their lives in peace” … Council member Bill Herald’s: … “We do this in the hope of molding a distinctive place where people can live with mutual respect, civility, and service to one another in a supportive community.” Charter committee member Mark Hollenbaugh’s: … “We do this as a collection of unique individuals with the desire that all our citizens be valued for who they are, and they be empowered by the rights and respect inherent in all people.” Charter committee co-chair Shannon Orr’s: … “and in adherence to practices of anti-discrimination established by law.” One of the big questions is – should the preamble just address anti-discrimination, or should it be expanded to include issues like neighborhoods and energy sustainability? Herald reminded the committee that three of the seven council members were opposed to any tweaking of the preamble, so they might want to keep it brief. “We’re threading a very small needle here,” Herald said. Zanfardino agreed that it might be best to keep the addition simple. But yet not too simple. “If this is a vision statement, we have to talk about values,” Gordon said. Zanfardino suggested that the committee “chew on” the proposals till the next meeting when they will be discussed on July 16. Citizen Janet Parks asked that the committee not dilute the language from addressing non-discrimination. “I would like to see that stronger language – not to dance around it at…


BG Council split over prioritizing planning in city charter

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   For the second consecutive meeting, Bowling Green City Council was divided over just how the city charter should be updated. And again, the vote was not according to party lines. The issue Monday evening was city planning. The decision boiled down to which was more important – protecting the integrity of the city charter, stressing the importance of city planning, or trying to do both. When it came to a vote, those wanting to keep the charter pristine while emphasizing city planning in ordinance form were Mike Aspacher, Bruce Jeffers and Greg Robinette. Those wanting to add a longer definition of city planning to the charter were Daniel Gordon, Bill Herald,  Sandy Rowland and John Zanfardino. Bowling Green voters will make the final decision on the charter change in November. The background on the vote began earlier this year when the charter update committee made a recommendation that a detailed definition for city planning be added to the city charter. Initially City Attorney Mike Marsh shortened the definition to make it more streamlined for the charter. However, he was asked to reintroduce the charter amendment using the longer version. That led to a debate among council members about the need to keep the charter uncluttered, and the need to place more emphasis on city planning. At the last council meeting, East Side resident Les Barber pleaded with council to allow the longer version in the charter. A lack of planning in the past has led to many neighborhood issues on the East Side that have spread to the West Side of the city. The language approved Monday evening lists the planning director’s duties as on-going study, investigation and analysis of all municipal planning functions, including zoning, platting, housing, zoning and subdivision codes, and code enforcement, including how each of the functions impacts the well being of the city’s neighborhoods, commercial and industrial areas. Robinette said he listened to various viewpoints, and while appreciating the passion of Barber and others, he still believes the charter is not the place for prioritizing planning. As council members, he said, they must “be rigorous defenders” of the city charter. However, he also proposed that the extended definition be placed in ordinance form in the city’s administrative code. That would allow “every word, every phrase” to be included in an ordinance while protecting the “integrity of the charter,” Robinette said. Jeffers also felt that putting the shorter version in the charter would give planning prominence. He talked about the need for some mention in the charter, since unlike parks and sewers, planning is a less concrete city function. “If we don’t do good planning, nobody knows it until it’s way too late,” Jeffers said. Aspacher agreed with the compromise of putting the shorter description in the charter, then backing it up with the more descriptive ordinance. He mentioned the city’s commitment to planning as obvious by recent efforts like the land use plan and Community Action Plan. But Rowland said she supported placing more emphasis on planning in the city charter. “It’s basically planning for the future,” she said. While some members believe the emphasis on planning “violates the purity” of the city charter, Zanfardino said that reasoning is not sound. The longer language doesn’t limit the…


BG joins the nation in rallying for immigrant families

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Nearly 250 Bowling Green citizens sweltered in the sun Saturday to add their voices to the national cry for justice for families seeking refuge in America. They gathered on Wooster Green to be counted among the 800-plus rallies held across the nation today with their top message being – families belong together. They held signs saying “Resist Hate,” “Reunite Broken Hearts,” and “The Pilgrims were Undocumented.” They came to say their country doesn’t treat people with such cruelty. And their Christianity doesn’t turn away people in need. They listened as Dr. Bill Donnelly, a psychologist who specializes in the care of children, talked about the traumatic effects the forced separations will have on children taken from their parents as they cross the southern U.S. border. “There will be devastating consequences for children and their family members,” Donnelly said. Decades of research show that children forcibly taken from their families are likely to suffer long-term problems of anxiety, depression, panic and grief, he said. “There is nothing more important for the mental health and physical health of a child,” than being with family, Donnelly said. Children crossing the border with their parents had already undergone great stress making the dangerous trek into the U.S. “They’re not coming in a luxury train,” he said. “Children rely on their parents for support in difficult times.” Despite President Donald Trump’s executive order that children no longer be separated from their parents at the border, very few families have been reunited. More than 2,000 children are still being held in detention centers, and it appears that in many cases, the federal government does not know where some separated children are so they can be reunited with parents. “This policy is needless and cruel,” Donnelly said. “We know children are not reunited with their parents.” It’s that image that brought Sheila Brown to Saturday’s rally. “I’m here to help support immigrant families,” Brown said. “I can’t even fathom having my children torn from me just because I’m looking for a better life for them.” The rally began with Tim Concannon’s singing of “This Land is Your Land,” a folk song written by Woody Guthrie scolding Americans who didn’t want to share their country. Despite national policy, Bowling Green City Council members Bruce Jeffers and John Zanfardino talked about local efforts to make immigrants feel comfortable in Bowling Green. “Bowling Green has welcomed immigrants naturally forever,” Jeffers said. “Then Trump was elected.” So City Council considered how to “help with the new reality,” he said. “We cannot change federal law.” But the city did adopt an ordinance declaring the city a welcoming community. “We try to do what we can locally,” Jeffers said. The city needs immigrants as a vital part of the local workforce, he added. Plus, it is just the right thing to do. “We are a welcoming community,” Jeffers said. “We believe in the essential goodness of humanity.” Often immigrant workers perform the jobs that would otherwise go unfilled, said Beatriz Maya, head of LaConexion. “We are heavy contributors,” Maya said. “We do the work no domestic workers want to do.” The federal crack down on immigrants is not just affecting distant borders, speakers reminded the crowd. At least four undocumented immigrants in Wood County have…


BG getting closer to building community solar project

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The future is getting brighter for the proposed community solar project in Bowling Green. On Thursday, the Wood County Commissioners entered an agreement with the city to allow 50 acres of county land to be studied as a potential site for a solar field. The Wood County Board of Developmental Disabilities has also agreed to allow 20 acres of its neighboring land to be part of the project. The 70 acres sit on the north side of East Gypsy Lane Road, between Interstate 75 and Wood Lane facilities. The property is currently leased for farming. “This is meant to be a community project,” said Daryl Stockburger, assistant director of Bowling Green Public Utilities. “Everybody is talking about doing their best to make this succeed.” The next step will now be to get the approval from the city’s Board of Public Utilities and then from City Council. Both of those entities have already shown strong support for solar power, by backing the city’s solar field on Carter and Newton roads. That field, at 165 acres, is the largest solar field in Ohio. Bowling Green gets a portion of the power generated at that solar field – enough to supply nearly 5 percent of the city’s energy needs. This new project, on East Gypsy Lane, would be different in that it would be a community solar field, which means city residents and businesses could sign up to be a part of the project and get electricity from the kilowatts generated at the solar field, according to Bowling Green Public Utilities Director Brian O’Connell. All of the energy created at the proposed site could be used to power Bowling Green. The community field could produce up to 10 megawatts, which is about half of the power generated at the Carter Road site. The panels would likely rotate with the sun during the day to maximize the energy generated. The “community solar” concept is a growing trend across the nation, according to O’Connell. Bowling Green residents and businesses could sign up to be part of the project – on a purely voluntary basis. Bowling Green officials have been looking for open space for more solar panels. “Peaking energy is important to us,” O’Connell said earlier this year. “We’re looking for new ways to do more solar. But finding large parcels of property close to the city is difficult.” Then the city found that big chunk of land right in its backyard – and close to its city electric service. “This would be an ideal location for this,” Stockburger said. The agreement with the county commissioners gives the city up to three years to determine if the East Gypsy Lane site is an economically sound location for a community solar field, Stockburger said on Thursday. “If the numbers all work out, all of our customers would be able to sign up,” he said. The county will retain use of the land until the time when it might be developed. If the acreage is converted to a solar field and can no longer be farmed, the city will pay the county $300 an acre per year. Any solar deal will likely last about 30 years. Then the decision would be made to continue with the solar arrays or…


BG sewer treatment plant now smelling much sweeter

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The plant that treats Bowling Green’s sewage isn’t accustomed to getting compliments from its neighbors about smells emitted from the site. But recently, the plant superintendent got some thank you notes about the lack of foul odors. That was welcome news to Doug Clark, superintendent of the Water Pollution Control Plant on Dunbridge Road. And that means that the recent investments made by the city in odor control are working. In the past, the wastewater plant made several attempts to sweeten the smells emitted. It uses an aerobic digestion process with bacteria that helps consume the waste. To lower the ammonia content, the wastewater is run through filters layered with large rocks, then smaller porous rocks, then root material. That process gets rid of some odors, but “quite frankly, not the most offensive ones,” Clark said in 2016. The complaints continued – primarily from neighboring businesses and Bowling Green State University. So Clark and Brian O’Connell, director of public utilities for the city, visited the wastewater plant in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, which uses activated carbon to take out all the remaining odors that aren’t stopped by the aerobic digestion process. “It’s the belts and suspenders part of the equipment that takes care of the odors that get through the biofilter,” O’Connell said after their visit. “We’re hopeful it will benefit us the same way.” The Bowling Green facility staff believed the two likely sources of the stench were the septage receiving station and the biofilter that removes the bacteria from the waste and turns it into a harmless solid. A misting odor neutralizer was added to the biofilter’s exhaust fan in 2016, but it had limited success. The septage station had no odor control. “The odors can be quite foul,” O’Connell said. “We’ve tried to get this problem licked in the past,” but the fixes always proved to be temporary. The Pennsylvania plant installed a carbon filter system to treat the exhaust air for odors. That change ended all odor complaints, including from the Holiday Inn located right next to that plant, O’Connell said. The permit for the Pennsylvania plant allows for “zero odor discharge from the perimeter,” Clark said. So Bowling Green purchased a larger exhaust fan, additional air piping and two carbon filter vessels for the biofilter. The two tanks would allow for one to serve as a backup. To combat odors from the septage station, two exhaust fans and carbon filter vessels were also installed. The cost to sweeten up the septage station was about $190,512. The cost to fix the biofilter odors was estimated at $287,403 – for a total of $477,915. “We want to be good neighbors,” O’Connell said. “It’s a sensitive issue for us,” he said last year when city officials approved the improvements. “We’ve had numerous complaints from businesses in the area.” Clark conceded that the odors are particularly pungent on some days, especially when the wind is coming from the north, sending the smell toward businesses along Dunbridge Road. “Typically, it’s wet heavy mornings when it’s most noticeable,” he explained last year. “It’s those days when you smell it, it’s really bad. There’s no way to know if it’s going to be one of those days.” Though Clark said the staff at the plant does…


Perrysburg thirsty for answers – touring BG water plant

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The water deal with Toledo is seemingly sunk, so it looks like Plan B for communities searching for quality water may be Bowling Green. Perrysburg city officials are touring the Bowling Green water treatment plant on Wednesday. “We’ve tried to answer questions for them,” Bowling Green Public Utilities Director Brian O’Connell said Monday evening to the city’s utilities board. “I’m not sure where it’s going to go,” O’Connell said. “They are in an information gathering phase.” Concerns about water quality, quantity and costs had resulted in a possible regional water system with Toledo in the center. However, that plan – called the Toledo Area Water Authority – was torpedoed by Toledo officials who weren’t happy with the terms. An earlier study conducted by the Wood County Economic Development Commission had identified Bowling Green as the top option for a regional water source. However, O’Connell said Bowling Green didn’t pursue any talks about expanding its customer base. “We didn’t want to look like we wanted to torpedo the TAWA,” O’Connell said. Bowling Green already sells water wholesale to Grand Rapids, Tontogany and Waterville. O’Connell has heard that with TAWA being sunk, Bowling Green water is being studied as an option by Perrysburg, Maumee and the Northwestern Water and Sewer District. For decades, those entities have purchased water from Toledo. However, the status quo was disrupted in the past few years by several concerns about Toledo water quality and cost. Toledo has been ordered to make many water system improvements, with the costs being passed on to customers who already pay large surcharges. Complaints from communities have shown growing dissatisfaction over the rates and the water quality since the Toledo system went through the algal bloom crisis of 2014. The TAWA agreement focused on providing economic savings and environmentally safe water. The proposal called for a redundant water supply source, so the 2014 water crisis would not be repeated. And it called for transparency in the pricing structure. In the last decade, water rates from Toledo doubled the rate of inflation. Bowling Green’s water became a topic of interest for neighboring entities when Poggemeyer Design Group studied water options at the request of the Wood County Economic Development Commission. The commission asked for the study a couple years back when Toledo was a less than willing partner in the regional negotiations. So Poggemeyer Design Group identified three options including Bowling Green water, a water intake at the Bayshore power plant, and a Maumee River intake. During the collection of data on the options, Bowling Green rose as the top choice of the alternatives. The benefits identified with Bowling Green water include the fact that it is an existing operation, would have the lowest capital costs, has state-of-the-art technology, and has an existing customer services agreement with the district. Bowling Green also has land for expansion at the water treatment plant, and has a history of cooperation with other political entities. Bowling Green could also benefit from the agreement. The city would continue to own and operate its facility, and could benefit from lower operating costs, more reservoir capacity, more treatment flexibility and more transmission redundancy.