ST. MARYS — The new lake restoration manager for Grand Lake St. Marys says continuing the work started by the Grand Lake St. Marys Restoration Commission will be his top priority.
Earlier this week, Milt Miller was named to the post to serve as the main face for the restoration efforts at Grand Lake St. Marys. Miller, who has been instrumental in fundraising efforts during the past two years, said he plans to continue the work started by the restoration group.
“We have such a full slate and agenda,” Miller told The Evening Leader. “The No. 1 thing is we will continue to work on another alum treatment. Scientists are telling us in the short-term, this will give us an open lake and that has to be first and foremost. The second thing I will be working on is to this point, we have been a volunteer group, we all have full-time jobs and cannot run fast enough. So in terms of sustainability for the group, we’ve started the process of creating a lake facilities authority and have been working with Jim Buchy’s office. That would make us a legal entity and provide a vehicle to be funded in the future as opposed to relying on grants and donations.”
Establishing a lake facilities authority would allow for the direct acceptances of grants and other monetary assistance. Miller said right now, any grants must be accepted via a third-party entity.
“Right now, we have to run them through some type of legal entity in order to accept them,” Miller said. “We’ve used two foundations, St. Mary Township, the two counties and the newly created county CIC. So when we get these grants, it’s not as simple as here is $100,000 to use on the lake. It has to be received by a legal entity.”
Another benefit of the authority is that it would allow the group the option of going to voters to seek a tax. Miller likened the possibility to the bed tax levied on hotels.
“We would have the power to put it in front of the voters to say will you support the lake,” Miller said. “Right now, none of that can be done. (The authority) is pretty vital for the sustainability of the lake.”
Miller also touched upon the status of the slew of vendors angling to have their projects put into action in Grand Lake St. Marys.
“I think at last count we had 65 different vendors all claim to have the silver bullet and clearly we don’t have the expertise to analyze what they are saying,” Miller said. “So we put all that in front of Battelle in Columbus as we run through the ideas. They ran all the vendors through a screening process. That pared it down to six to seven vendors they felt may have a benefit on the lake.”
Lake officials met with each of the vendors to discuss their ideas further. However, Miller noted none of the vendors have agreed to fund their own pilot projects.
“We won’t do anything large scale until we prove it will work on a small scale,” Miller said. “Just like the sediment collectors and AiryGators — those were all based on pilot studies. Even the alum was to make sure it had merit.”
Miller praised the work of the lake restoration group and its volunteers for helping to further the cause to heal Grand Lake St. Marys. In his new position, Miller said there is now a person on the forefront on a full-time basis.
“The thing we are stressing, and I mean every word of this, in addition to myself, we have a very dedicated committee of people who got us to where we are and that group will still exist,” Miller said. “The LRC is not going away. All that will happen is that by hiring me, it gives the group someone who can work 24/7 on the lake as opposed to us running fast enough to get the same thing done. We will continue to meet weekly and share ideas. There are a lot of fantastic, collective minds here who got us to where we are today.”
Miller said he hopes the swell of local support during the past two years continues to remain strong. He noted the condition of the lake has a tremendous impact on the region.
“I think the last study said it supported 2,000 jobs,” Miller said.
“I honestly don’t believe people understand how this lake touches every fragment of our population. I’ve talked to a lot of small businesses who say while the economy is bad, they also are saying their business is off because of the lake. It’s even to the point to where it’s impacting human sources in soliciting talent to the area. You try to sell amenities to a candidate coming into the area and the lake used to be a big one. Right now, they are saying it’s impacting their ability to hire talent.”