Thursday, August 2, 2018

$142 million loan from Ohio EPA includes $6 million for important wetlands protection

A $5.95 million slice of an interest-bearing nearly $142 million loan from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency will go toward purchasing and protecting 736 acres in four Ohio lakeshore counties.

The Ohio EPA is making the loan to the Cleveland-based Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District which will build a 9,640-foot long, 25-foot diameter tunnel that will capture sewage and storm water, particularly during heavy storm events, the state agency says.

Encapsulated within the 30-year loan is a 2.17-percent interest requirement, and in order to reduce its obligation for that payment the Sewer District will make available the nearly $6 million to four entities for the purchase of a quartet of high valued wetland habitats.

The four parcels and their respective new owners include: the 200-acre Morgan Swamp Metzner Tract in Ashtabula County that includes 4,600 feet of Grand River frontage and 2,385 feet of tributary frontage by the Nature Conservancy ($774,000); a 66-acre parcel to be added to the existing 395-acre Sawdust Swamp Forest that includes 5,040 feet of tributary footage, also in Ashtabula County, and by the Cleveland Museum of Natural History ($347,566); a 65-acre track called “Bay Point” in Ottawa County along the Lake Erie shoreline by the Western Reserve Land Conservancy ($1.28 million); and 405 acres called the “Kitty Todd-Bettinger Restoration project in Lucas County intended to restore a wet prairie and wooded wetlands proximity to existing Nature Conservancy and Toledo Metro Parks holdings in Lucas County and likewise facilitated by the Nature Conservancy ($3.54 million).

Dina Pierce – media coordinator for the Ohio EPA – says the way in which the agency’s long-named “Water Resource Restoration Program” works is that system allowed the loan recipient (officially called a sponsor) to direct some of the interest paid on its loan to conservation-related projects. In exchange, the Sewer District obtained an 0.04 percent interest rate discount on the loan – a detail which will add up over the life of the 30-year loan, Pierce says.

The bulk of the actual loan money partially comes from various federal capitalization grants that have grown over time due to the revolving loan interest-bearing nature of the program, Pierce says also.

“For us as an agency, the program benefits both improving water quality and also water protection through the application of unique projects,” Pierce says.

Pierce says as well that funds can be used “for purchasing, protecting, restoring, and-or enhancing the properties.”

“Obviously there are other benefits such as preserving and restoring valuable wetlands, but it is unusual for one entity to sponsor four different projects. Usually it’s just one or two,” Pierce said.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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