Monday, April 2, 2012

UPDATED Millions sought for hatchery/shooting range upgrades may be diverted

With the intention of upgrading one fish hatchery and rehabilitating five shooting ranges, the Ohio Division of Wildlife is requesting $3.5 million in the state’s two-year Capital Budget.

The Ohio legislature last year passed a contentious two-year Operating Budget and now it is time to do the same with the Capital Budget.

However, there is a Wildlife Division disclaimer that could see the money being funneled instead to the construction of a single complex that will house the agency’s three current and dispersed wildlife management research stations.

“We have a specific project in mind with the London hatchery, and the shooting range (dollars) will be split up according to needed renovations, much of which are only estimates at this point,” said Scott Zody, the Wildlife Division’s chief.

Zody said also that the agency has built into its request additional dollars in the event “we have a facility go down or there is a storm, fire, accident.”

And by seeking a buffer the Wildlife Division would not have to wait until the next Capital cycle before asking for the money, Zody says.

As explained by the agency’s assistant chief (administration) Susan Howard, Capital expenditures can come out of the operating budget.

Howard says that most of the funding for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Capital Budget Request - like most other agencies - comes from bond monies which are required to go through the Capital budget process.

The Division of Wildlife capital projects come out of one of the agency’s rotary funds. These accounts are fueled by user fees, royalties, donations and the like but no bond monies, Howard says.

“Even if we decided to use operating dollars to fund these projects, we would have to go through the Controlling Board and the requests would have the same legislative oversight,” Howard said.

Eric Postell, the Wildlife Division’s outdoor education supervisor, said that a “quick and dirty” estimate for the possible shooting range work would cost $3 million.

This work would be performed at the agency’s five Class A shooting ranges. Included is the one located at the Grand River Wildlife Area in Trumbull County.

The ranges were all built in the late 1970s to the early 1980s with the Grand River one of the latest.
However, the ranges have been neglected “and we need to upgrade and fix up the backstops,” Postell says.

“They get a lot of use, especially from late summer up through the start of the deer gun season,” he said.

Even more importantly, Postell says, is the clean-up and reclamation of the spent lead projectiles.

“That needs to be done every 10 years or so,” Postell says. “When you’re talking about lead reclamation - especially on five ranges - it can be pretty costly.”

Not lost either is the fact that last year the Delaware Wildlife Area’s shooting range experienced serious and flooding. That means the Wildlife Division will either have to relocate the range to higher ground or else perform major renovations, Postell says.

And while the state does sell permits for people to use the ranges the money collected from the sale of these documents goes into the agency’s General Fund and are not earmarked for the ranges’ upkeep, Postell said.

These permits cost $5 for one-day use, and $24 for an annual-use document. In the 2010-2011 accounting period the agency sold 25,010 one-day range permits and 6,733 annual permits, Postell says.

Needed as well are upgrades to the Wildlife Division’s London fish hatchery, easily the oldest in the agency’s stable of hatcheries and having been in operation since 1896.

The hatchery contains 34 ponds and has a four-person full-time staff. It raises both rainbow and brown trout along with muskies, hybrid striped bass and fathead minnows raised to feed to the muskies, says Tim Parrett, administrator for the Wildlife Division’s fish hatchery program.

What is needed at London, says Parrett, are electrical upgrades to better accommodate aeration of the ponds, a larger back-up generator, a new alarm system that will alert workers to any water quality or flow issues, and the installation of a “mixing tank” that can hold and mix water taken the hatchery’s cold-water well and a nearby stream.

The cost for these hatchery upgrades will likely be between $1.8 million and $2 million, Parrett says.

“We’ve realized that at some point we’d have to address these issues,” Parrett said.

Yet those issues - and the ones involving the shooting ranges - may have to continue waiting in line as the Wildlife Division mulls diverting the hoped-for funds in order to build a single, combined wildlife research management station.

“That decision has not been made yet,” Zody said."My point is that London and the shooting range needs will be taken care of first, and funds will not be diverted from those projects." 

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Twitter: @Fieldkorn

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