FAYETTE — About 800 people, concerned with Artesian of Pioneer’s plan to drill into the Michindoh Aquifer and sell the water to entities outside Williams County, nearly filled the Fayette school gymnasium Tuesday for a public information session by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency regarding AOP’s application to site a single test production water well near Fayette.

The crowd included about 30 people who staged a peaceful protest outside the school prior to the meeting. Protesters included members of the Williams County Alliance opposition group, along with about a dozen people from northeast Indiana and southern Michigan, who held signs and chanted while cordially interacting with a low-key Fayette police presence and a host of news media.

“I’m here because we want to reach people and make them aware of the potential sale of our water,” Bryan resident and Williams County Alliance member Rosemary Hug said as she stood on the sidewalk outside the school. “We’re opposed to the sale of our water. It’s a natural resource and I don’t think you can put a price on it. Water is for our livelihood and I don’t think it should be sold,” said Hug.

AOP owner Ed Kidston has proposed withdrawing as many as 14 million gallons of water a day from the Michindoh Aquifer and shipping it to as many as nine entities in Fulton, Wood, Lucas and Henry counties.

In early October 2018, a consortium of seven entities approved an agreement for AOP to drill a test well. Five of those entities — the cities of Whitehouse, Maumee, Sylvania and Perrysburg as well as the Northwestern Water and Sewer District — have been getting their water from Toledo, but disagreements about the terms of a new agreement with Toledo have them considering other alternatives, including water from the Michindoh through AOP.

The Ohio EPA has given AOP preliminary approval for the single test well site at 24688 Fulton County Road S, just northwest of Fayette. The EPA also said given the “high level of interest” in AOP’s proposed plan, it set up Tuesday’s informational meeting.

During a PowerPoint presentation to kick off the meeting, Amy Klei, EPA chief of drinking and ground water, said the well siting is a very, very early step in a long process of establishing a water system. The EPA is now in the process of determining if this well site — possibly the first of several — adheres to state regulations, including setbacks and environmental factors.

She also noted that virtually no details about the water system plan have been released in writing by AOP to the EPA.

“We’re here tonight because the Ohio EPA has received a well site application. Until we know more about the actual proposal it’s simply not possible or appropriate to comment about the overall viability of this project,” Klei said.

Taylor Browning, EPA drinking and ground water staffer, said if the site application is approved, that doesn’t mean the project is approved. She said if the site application is approved, a number of steps still remain, including developing a general and detailed plan, analyzing water for contaminants, signing customer contracts, obtaining easements if the water is transported by pipes, creating a source water protection plan and designing water treatment facilities.

After the PowerPoint, EPA staffers read and answered written questions, and the crowd erupted when someone asked why a private business would be allowed to sell billions of gallons of aquifer water a year to entities like the Toledo suburbs, which have easy access the potable water.

Klei said that was a question to be answered by Kidston, who did not attend the meeting. He told The Bryan Times last week he would not be attending, but planned to send a representative(s).

Klei did answer “absolutely” to a question asking if future applications and test results will be available for public review, though she also added that no such data on things such as recharge rates or rates of recovery are yet available.

“It’s simply too early in the process. We’re not at a point where we’re making a decision on a water system. What we have in front of us is an application for a well site,” she said.

No comments or questions were read that offered support for the AOP plan.

When asked if the EPA will consider the overwhelmingly negative public opinion about the AOP plan when making a decision, Klei acknowledged that “the concern has been extraordinary.”

“We’ll consider it as well as look at all aspects of the plan, such as, is this the best system, does this make sense? I think it’s also important to include state and elected officials and have them bring the issue to the table as well,” she said.

Several attendees also questioned the effect new wells could have on Fayette and western Fulton County water quality, suggesting new wells could run into buried contaminants from the former Fayette Tubular Products.

Comments about AOP’s proposed well site also will be accepted by the Ohio EPA until Friday, March 15, by those who want to submit them in writing to Ohio EPA, Division of Drinking and Ground Waters, Attn. Craig Smith, P.O. Box 1049, Columbus, OH 43216-1049.

It’s unclear when a decision on this well site will be made, but Klei said the EPA will stage additional community meetings as AOP’s plan moves forward.

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