A year and a half ago, we first visited a unique habitat in northern Ohio that was up for sale. Today, that property is a brand-new nature preserve. Edison Woods in Erie County near Sandusky is the 1,400 acre remnant of a vast wetland forest that once covered much of the southern shores of Lake Erie. When the property was offered for purchase, Erie Metroparks was eager to buy it. A November ballot issue to pay for the park failed to pass. But through a new program of the Ohio EPA, Edison Woods is now the latest jewel in the Erie Metroparks' crown. 90.3's Karen Schaefer reports.
Karen Schaefer- It's ironic to consider that this nearly pristine parcel of wetland woods and meadows was once intended as the site for a nuclear power plant. Stretching north from a 300-foot sandstone escarpment just six miles south of Lake Erie, the forest rolls unbroken for miles. For the last ten years, Erie County Metroparks has run the property as a nature preserve. But they didn't own it. So when FirstEnergy put the land up for sale, officials at the park district scrambled to find a way to keep it intact. Kevin Zeiher is president of the park board.
Kevin Zeiher- We had a levy on the ballot that we worked on very hard with the help of the Trust for Public Lands and Chris Knopf and a lot of people including the Friends of Edison Woods and volunteers. Unfortunately, the levy failed.
KS- When that happened, Metroparks director Jon Granville was devastated.
Jon Granville- This is just a fantastic place for many of the organisms that perhaps all of us grew up with, thinking they were plentiful and would always be around Ð a spring peeper, a variety of salamanders and frogs and toads.
KS- On an early spring afternoon, Granville leads a group through these wet woods on a salamander hunt.
JG- There are some wet spots.
KS- There are.
JG- Hey, look at this! We have... No, no, I think I'm wrong. It's just ice...I'm sure if we look closely as we pass by these vernal pools, we will see some salamander eggs. Don't see any in this one. But this is the best time of year for this activity.
KS- We don't find any salamander eggs, but we do find spring peepers in abundance. We also spot a red-tailed hawk flying above the sandstone ridge that forms the heights of Edison Woods. As we watch, Granville gets the call he's been waiting for.
JG: Hello! Jon Granville...Okay, thanks. Chris Knopf: What's the word? JG: FirstEnergy confirms! CK: Congratulations, Jon! How wonderful!
KS- Granville has just received confirmation that FirstEnergy has closed a deal to let Erie Metroparks buy the property. Chris Knopf of the Trust for Public Lands has been one of the partners in trying to save Edison Woods. He explains that the purchase was made through a new program of the Ohio EPA.
CK- OEPA's Water Resource Restoration Sponsor program is a first-of-its-kind-in-the-nation effort to protect water resources to not just looking at protecting water resources at the end of the pipe through sewage treatment, but also look at before that stage and protect water resources before you need to have sewer systems.
KS- The program works like this. When a municipality taps into the state loan fund for sewage treatment upgrades, the EPA will drop their interest payments by a tenth of a percent if they agree to borrow more money than they need. That money can then be spent on water resource protection or restoration projects like Edison Woods, either locally or elsewhere in the state. In this first use of the Ohio program, the city of Marion near Columbus tacked on an extra $6 million to their loan request and gave that money to Erie Metroparks. Marion Mayor Jack Kellogg says the advantages were obvious.
Jack Kellogg- It's hard to believe that the $6 million can be changed in a 20-year period of where it doesn't cost Marion anything, plus I'll make about $360,000 more than I would have the other way.
KS- Bob Monsarrat of the Ohio EPA says the program was designed to spend $20 million over two years on water quality projects. The new program was first announced in January, but he says projects already underway will probably use up the fund by June.
Bob Monsarrat- We've got over $6 billion worth of need for waste water treatment plant improvement projects. I think it will be extended. I think probably over the next two year period, we'll make at least as much available for this type of work.
KS- In the past, the OEPA has been criticized by some environmental groups for rubber stamping development projects that destroy wetlands and damage water resources. But Steve Sedam of the Ohio Audobon Society says this time the EPA is doing the right thing.
Steve Sedam- Yeah, they've made some mistakes and they've done some good things, too. This is a very positive development for wetlands protection in northern and actually all of Ohio.
KS- Edison Woods partners hope the idea will spread to other states, all fifty of which have similar state loan programs for waste water treatment improvements. In the meantime, the work at Edison Woods is just beginning. Over the next three years in cooperation with the EPA, Jon Granville will be directing the restoration of old farm fields and new-growth woods to their natural state - protecting water resources for generations to come. In Erie County, Karen Schaefer, 90.3, 90.3 WCPN.