County delegation meets with ODNR officials

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 14, 2004

COLUMBUS - For a first date, it seemed to go pretty well.

Lawrence County's 11th annual Legislative Day included a "first date" of sorts - a meeting with leaders of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources on Thursday.

More than a dozen county leaders met with Glen Alexander, assistant ODNR director, and other ODNR leaders to discuss how the county and state could further benefit from one another.

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Since it was the first time members of the Greater Lawrence County Area Chamber of Commerce had met with ODNR leaders on a Legislative Day, the meeting was more of a get-to-know-each-other session than one covering lots of new business.

From the chamber's perspective the purpose was economic development help.

"When we say development, we're not necessarily talking about building things," said Doug Cade, meeting facilitator and chamber member. "We're talking about helping people use the (Wayne National) forest."

ODNR officials spoke about how well the state works with Lawrence County.

"Without partners like you folks, we couldn't do our jobs," said Michael Quinn, deputy chief of ODNR's Division of Watercraft.

Quinn, who is familiar with Lawrence County through his past work with the state highway patrol, said the county and ODNR have been great partners for years.

Quinn pointed to the long-standing partnerships and cooperative agreements between the state and the Lawrence County Sheriff's Office. In the last several years, ODNR's Division of Watercraft has funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars into the county, Quinn said.

In addition, Quinn said ODNR is considering three proposals to replace the region's boater registration facility, two of which include sites in Lawrence County.

"It's really in its infancy," Quinn said.

Cade told ODNR officials that the chamber would help in whatever way they could with the project.

Terry Van Offerer, who manages ODNR's abandoned mine lands program, explained the history of mining in the county.

Coal mining began in 1844, Van Offerer said. Today, a combination of federal environmental regulations and a changing industrial base has buried all mining in the county.

"The problem in Lawrence County epitomizes coal mining in Ohio at large," he said. "It's declined dramatically. There are no active coal mines in Lawrence County."

Chamber committee chair Doug Cade, who facilitated the natural resources discussion, asked Van Offerer about the viability of reopening coal mines in the county and whether ODNR could help county officials develop recreational pursuits on abandoned mine land.

Cade said he understood the chamber had been approached by two to three people recently who were interested in reopening some of the county's mines.

Van Offerer said he was unaware of the renewed interest but said most Ohio coal remains of low value.

"There are a variety of reasons for Ohio coal not to be used," Van Offerer said. "Number 1 is the sulfur."

High sulfur content inherent in the majority of Ohio coal has made it extremely less valuable in the wake of the Clean Air Act and other regulations that restrict the amount of sulfur that can be released by coal-burning industries.

The state can help in redeveloping mine lands, Van Offerer said, although much of the state resources go first to emergency work, involving emergency and environmental concerns.

John Dorka, chief of the Division of Forestry with ODNR, spoke to the group about the Dean State Forest and its impact on Lawrence County.

"Lawrence County is the most forested county in Ohio," Dorka said. "Three out of four acres in the county are forested.

"Dean State Forest is the oldest state forest in the state of Ohio," he said.

The first portion was purchased in 1916. Today the forest includes 2,745 acres of land, surrounded by the federally managed Wayne National Forest.

Dorka detailed the financial impact that the state forest provides to the county including fees collected on timber production.

He also discussed how the February 2003 ice storm damaged the forest.

"Unfortunately it hit us. In essence the 90 years of work we'd put into the forest were pretty much destroyed," he said. "Every acre, virtually every tree in the forest was damaged."

Since the storm, state officials have been working to correct the damage.

"In that time, a little over a year, we've been able to salvage a little over 2 million feet of timber," he said, adding that all of the ice storm clean-up has pumped nearly $300,000 into the local economy in the last 10 months.