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Rally outside town hall meeting opposes AquaBounty facility

PIONEER — Lyle and Angie Brigle, of rural Edon, and Lou Pendleton, of rural Bryan, were three of about 15 people who assembled on the sidewalk near the North Central school building in Pioneer Wednesday evening.

Inside the school, a panel of AquaBounty company officials held a town hall meeting to talk about the proposed commercial salmon farm being built in Pioneer and to address questions submitted by the public and vetted ahead of time by the officials prior to the meeting.

Outside, each of the 15 protesters carried signs expressing the same message — opposition to AquaBounty’s proposed $320 million, 479,000-square-foot facility that the company says will be capable of producing 10,000 metric tons of genetically modified salmon a year.

When asked why she joined the protest, Pendleton noted part of the AquaBounty plan, which the company calls part of its water conservation plan, involves withdrawing 5 million gallons of water a day from the local aquifer, then discharging that same amount back into the nearby St. Joseph River.

“The plan’s just not right, to pump and dump 5 million gallons of our water a day is not a conservation plan,” said Pendleton, adding she felt it was important to turn out Wednesday to give voice to her concerns despite the company beginning to build its facility on Kexon Drive and receiving approval from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to withdraw about 3 million gallons per day (mgd) from the local underground aquifer.

That application has since been revised to 5 mgd and is pending.

“People think the path is clear because they’re starting to build there. I think it’s important to let (AquaBounty) know it’s not right and we don’t want them here,” said Pendleton, who, like most of the 15 who turned out to the protest Wednesday, is a member of the Williams County Alliance, a self-described “nonprofit, grassroots, citizen group dedicated to promoting a sustainable future.”

Lyle Brigle, a retired engineer, said he questions the sustainability of withdrawing 5 mgd from the aquifer, noting no study exists to confirm that.

“I’m not a geologist. But neither is Mr. Kidston,” he said, referring to Ed Kidston, mayor of Pioneer and owner of Artesian of Pioneer, AquaBounty’s water consultant. “Pumping 5 million gallons right into the river, that doesn’t seem right ... It’s wasteful.”

Alliance organizer Sherry Fleming said the group is holding an alternative community town hall meeting beginning at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 28, at Edon Northwest Local Schools.

In contrast to Wednesday’s tightly scripted AquaBounty town hall meeting, Fleming said no preregistration is required and questions do not have to be submitted to a panel prior to the event.

“We want to give people an update on the process so far, so people have some answers about the water withdrawal permit and what they (AquaBounty) have to do to get approval from the EPA,” said Fleming, referring to the fact that in order to build the treatment facility, AquaBounty still needs a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit from the EPA.

“And we want to help people pose questions during the (ODNR) comment period that we hope could trigger a public meeting about this whole project. People deserve that,” Fleming said.


Local
CCNO agrees to in-house programming

The Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio Board agreed Wednesday to redirect available funding to develop its own inmate programming and services.

CCNO Director Dennis Sullivan made the proposal in the wake of 90-day notification by Toledo-based Midwest Recovery Center to quit providing services, such as those for substance use disorder.

Sullivan said the Midwest contract stipulated CCNO receive the services of three counselors, a supervisor and a nurse practitioner. However, Midwest has not met that staffing level recently and he believes CCNO can provide a higher level of service at a lower cost than Midwest.

He proposed a plan for CCNO to begin in-house programming by hiring two licensed counselors, then once the program is up and running, to add a case manager. That staffing level will be effective for the current needs and be less expensive than Midwest, Sullivan said.

He estimated the costs of in-house programming at about $250,000 annually, which is about $100,000 less than the Midwest contract. It could be accomplished by redirecting two revenue sources, Sullivan said.

One revenue source is a $150,000 a year grant from the Four County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMhs) Board that is currently going to Midwest Recovery Center. A second revenue source would be drawing the balance of needed revenue — an estimated $100,000 — from the Inmate Trust Fund, which derives its revenue from sale of snacks and other commissary items, such as soap, lotions and thermal underwear, to inmates.

Sullivan proposes the new staff will be CCNO employees, and while they will earn less in salary than Midwest counselors, he said, they will receive better health care insurance benefits as county employees and will be enrolled in the state retirement plan.

Sullivan said the counselors will be licensed professionals with either a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC) or a Licensed Social Worker (LSW) certification.

He said he hopes to have the new employees in place by the end of the Midwest contract quit date, which is around Aug. 15.

‘Reasonable’

Upon questioning from board member and Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken, CCNO Fiscal Officer Tonya Justus said the Inmate Trust Fund stood at about $1.1 million.

Sullivan said CCNO generally spends about $150,000 to $175,000 annually from the Inmate Trust Fund for programming and various incentives for inmates and inmate workers, such commissary packages for good behavior and for GED graduation expenses.

Justus said the balance rose when CCNO was unable to provide programming for about a year or more during the COVID pandemic.

“In the past we’ve used the Trust Fund (money) to pay for programming and supplies and anything that benefits inmates, including programming for things like anger management classes,” Sullivan explained after the meeting.

During the meeting he also said that the Inmate Trust Fund expenditures have been vetted as legal by CCNO’s legal team as long as they benefit inmates.

In view of the sizable fund balance, Gerken asked that CCNO administration take a look at the pricing of items.

CCNO Operations Chief Toby Bostater said the items are “priced fairly” and in line with prices at convenience stores. He said a lot of items are priced cheaper than what staff members pay for some similar items, while Sullivan added it’s part of the Inmate Trust Fund contract that prices be “reasonable”

In response to another question from Gerken, Sullivan said jail officials could look at using some of the Inmate Trust Fund money to offset some costs now being borne by the CCNO general fund.

“We can take a look at that. As long as it’s being used for the inmates, we can do that,” Sullivan said.

“So with the (approval) of the use of the Inmate Trust Fund and the ADAMhs Board grant funds, we’ll provide program staff, and supplies and wages,” Sullivan said.

In a voice vote, the board unanimously agreed to the plan.

In other action Wednesday, the board:

• Heard Sullivan report that CCNO’s population was at 572 inmates, with 335 of them from the five-county membership area of Williams, Henry, Defiance, Fulton and Lucas counties. He said about 20 are housed as part of an agreement with the Findlay and Hancock County courts, and the balance of 200-plus inmates are housed through an agreement with the U.S. Marshals Office.

• Heard Justus report that all funds are in balance and no adjustments were needed for April and May.


Election
Ballots shipped for Aug. 2 primary

Voters in Ohio’s unconstitutionally gerrymandered House and Senatorial districts can cast their ballots starting two days after Independence Day.

Elections workers in Ohio have begun mailing absentee ballots to military members and other overseas voters for the state’s upcoming Aug. 2 special primary election, the secretary of state’s office announced in a news release issued Monday.

In Williams County, Deputy Elections Director AJ Nowaczyk said Tuesday the office had sent five such ballots out.

Primary races at the local and statewide level were determined in the May 3 election. But races for state legislative positions and state central committees were delayed after the GOP-controlled Ohio Redistricting Commission repeatedly failed to produce district maps that can hold up in court as constitutional.

The Statehouse races on Williams County ballots are unlikely to draw a big turnout for the Aug. 2 election. Incumbents Republicans Jim Hoops and Rob McColley are unopposed in Ohio’s 81st House and 1st Senatorial districts, respectively. No Democrats filed qualifying petitions.

The only contested races are for the Senate District 1 state central committees for both the GOP and the Democrats. Voters will select one out of three Republican men (Robert E. Campbell, James Horton, Tony J. Schroeder), three Republican women (Gina R. Campbell, LuAnne Cooke, Haydee Sadler) and two Democrat men (Charles A. Bakle, Andrew VanHorn) for the positions. Eve Gray is unopposed among Democrat women.

Nowaczyk noted the deadline to register is July 5. The elections office, at 1425 E. High St., Suite 104, will be open until 9 p.m. that day.

Early in-person voting begins the next day, July 6, when the office will also begin mailing out absentee ballots.

Early in-person voting can then take place around Ohio from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, through July 22. From July 25-29, voters can cast ballots in person between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. Offices will also be open for in-person voting on Saturday, July 30 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; on Sunday, July 31 from 1-5 p.m.; and Monday, Aug. 1, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Absentee ballots sent via mail must be postmarked by Aug. 1.

Polls are open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Election Day, Aug. 2. Absentee ballots can also be turned in to your local elections office in person by 7:30 p.m. that day.

Nowaczyk said he anticipates “smooth sailing” for the primary after a mistake on the part of the county’s ballot printing vendor caused some ballots not to scan properly early during the May 3 primary.

Elections officials said the affected ballots were collected and counted and the integrity of the election was not compromised. IVS has rebated the $4,806.25 printing costs to the county.

The Aug. 2 primary uses the third set of Statehouse maps approved by the Ohio Redistricting Commission. That map — as well as the two maps approved before it — was declared unconstitutionally gerrymandered by the Ohio Supreme Court. But a federal judicial panel imposed use of the map and scheduled the Aug. 2 primary.

“A primary election in August is unusual and certainly unexpected this year, but it’s no less important,” LaRose said in Monday’s new release. “I encourage the friends and family of Ohioans who are serving or working abroad to remind them to visit VoteOhio.gov because it’s time for them to cast a ballot.”

The total cost of this primary is estimated at around $25,000, Nowaczyk said. A bill has been passed and is awaiting the governor’s signature to allot money to the counties for the election.

“We are waiting for the bill to pass to learn the stipulations and what all these grants will pay for,” Nowaczyk said.


Local
featured
AquaBounty: 'There's also an awful lot of support'

(Editor's note: This is the first story covering the AquaBounty town hall held on Wednesday evening. A second story will be published in Saturday's edition.)

PIONEER — AquaBounty officials sat down Wednesday with around 40 members of the community for a second town hall meeting (and first in-person) to discuss its planned fish farm in Pioneer.

AquaBounty is in the process of constructing and getting the applications for a planned 479,000-square-foot facility to raise 10,000 metric tons of genetically modified salmon a year. The project will cost AquaBounty up to $320 million with plans to hire more than 100 people to operate the facility.

Prior to the town hall, people were able to submit questions to be answered during the event.

Donna Moenning, of The Center for Food Integrity, was the moderator for meeting. She said more than 70 questions were submitted and she intended to address each one.

Questions involved several different topics, with many of them asked in slightly different ways by different people, but included questions about the opposition to the project and the product, itself.

The presentation will be made available on the Williams County Economic Development Corporation's (WEDCO) website, www.wedco.info.

Opposition

Of the questions submitted, two asked directly about the opposition to the project.

Since before the project was officially announced, people have spoken out against it, focusing heavily on the amount of water (up to 5 million gallons a day) to be pulled from the local underground aquifer (see accompanying story).

Sylvia Wulf, AquaBounty president and CEO, said the company wants to have discussions with those who oppose the project to let them know how the company intends to run the facility and the details about it.

"We completely appreciate the concerns around water and how we're going to impact the community," she said. "Bring (concerns) to our attention and let's talk about it."

Wulf also wanted to let people know AquaBounty will bring economic development and continued investments to the community and will support improvements at area schools.

AquaBounty wants to have a positive impact on the Pioneer community, just as it has had on its other locations in Indiana and Canada, she added.

"What we've been able to surmise is, yes, there is opposition but there's also an awful lot of support," Wulf said. "What we've learned over time, with the fact that we are genetically engineered, there tends to be a vocal minority of people who may be opposed to genetic engineering."

Those people who understand the benefits welcome and buy the product, she said.

Wulf hoped the members of the community who support AquaBounty because they recognize the value it brings will continue in their support.

Fish

Wulf said AquaBounty's fish were genetically modified once around 30 years ago.

The product went through 25 years of testing through the federal Food and Drug Administration for issues like allergies, toxicity and pathology, she said.

Now, AquaBounty has a grow farm in Albany, Indiana, and on Prince Edward Island in Canada and they are selling all the fish they produce there to various markets.

"There's quite a market for genetically engineered salmon because it's a domestic source of supply and it's located close to areas of consumption," Wulf said. "Not only are we selling currently but we have a backlog of customers that are interested in buying our fish."

Although Walmart and Kroger have come out against selling GMO salmon, Wulf said those places are reconsidering their stance.

One reason these businesses are reconsidering their position is that no chemicals or antibiotics are used in the production of the salmon, she added.

When someone from the audience spoke up, asking if AquaBounty dyes its fishes' flesh (farm-raised salmon is naturally gray), Wulf said they don't use any dye and their salmon eat normal fish food.

"Salmon are actually carnivorous fish and they eat crustaceans and shell fish and that's how they get the red tint," Wulf said. "There is fish meal and fish oil in our fish feed and that's where they get the color. We don't put any dyes in our fish. That's illegal."

She also dispelled concerns about fish escaping.

The fish they farm are all female, Wulf said, and sterile. AquaBounty facilities also have at least six levels of physical containment and nets, which aren't considered physical containment.

"One of the things I can guarantee you is they aren't going to sprout wings, they don't have legs, they aren't getting out of the tanks," Wulf said. "The chances of (escape) are essentially zero."


Local
Murder suspect ruled competent to stand trial
Court records: Suspect in Montpelier woman's murder now is competent to stand trial

Danialle Swan

A Toledo court has reversed its decision a second time, with a judge ruling last week that the suspect in the 2020 murder of a Montpelier woman is now competent to stand trial.

According to online court records:

Thomas J. Smith, 25, of Toledo, has been treated for the past year in a locked ward at the Northwest Ohio Psychiatric Hospital after Lucas County Common Pleas Court Judge Lindsay D. Navarre ruled in June 2021 that he was incompetent to stand trial and was a danger to himself and others, based on a report from the Court Diagnostic & Treatment Center, a private, non-profit organization based in Toledo.

That came after the court ruled in in May 2020 that Smith was competent, based on a prior report from Court Diagnostic & Treatment.

Last week’s turnabout was based on a new report, this one from the Northwest Ohio Psychiatric Hospital in Toledo.

Smith is accused of stabbing Danialle Swan, 24, of Montpelier, several times in the chest and abdomen with a 4-inch-long folding knife on Feb. 29, 2020, as she entered a BP gas station in Toledo. Swan later succumbed to her injuries at ProMedica Toledo Hospital.

Authorities said Smith fled the scene on foot initially, but was tackled and held by multiple bystanders who witnessed the attack. Police have said it appears Swan and Smith did not know one another prior to the incident.

Court records don’t yet show a date for Smith’s next hearing.


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