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Local environmental group hopes to educate

By J. Patrick Eaken
Press Staff Writer

A local environment group is forming with hopes of addressing environmental concerns along the western basin of Lake Erie.

Sandy Bihn, former City of Oregon finance director, and others, many of whom like herself live along the lakefront, are forming the Maumee Bay Association. Currently, the association is seeking nonprofit status in order to obtain funds and lobby to protect the environment from what they say is a history of abuse by industry.

The Maumee Bay Association has been low key up to recently, but Mrs. Bihn has not always been. She is well known for her experience during her tenure as finance director in dealing with environmental issues.

The group's membership, which meets monthly, has grown to nearly 100 people. When the group attains its nonprofit status, dues will become formalized and then grants will be sought, another area Mrs. Bihn has knowledge of from her previous tenure. Members have begun making trips to Columbus and Washington, D.C. to lobby their views in a political environment.

"We are going to apply for a grant for some educational purposes," Mrs. Bihn explains. "I'm not sure we're going to get it but by applying for a nonprofit organization we could be able to get more grants and do more studies and more research and hopefully educate and advocate the Maumee Bay and a better water shed."

One of their primary goals is to see to it that Maumee Bay becomes officially designated as a bay. In turn, they say their group, although open to membership, will also begin actively recruiting environmentally aware individuals across the bay in places like Point Place and Michigan.

"Oregon has about five miles of shoreline. Maumee Bay, we found out, is about 16 square miles, its average depth is less than five feet. It is a very fragile body of water that lies between the western basin of Lake Erie and the Maumee River. In most documents, you'll see the bay is not listed there and it is important that it is recognized as a bay and it's important that this water shed is protected," Bihn explains.

"We'd like to see it happen. I'm not exactly sure what the vehicles are to do that. We're still looking at how we can most effectively raise these issues. There are more people getting involved in these issues including everybody here.

"One of the long term goals is to write a history of the Oregon shore line and perhaps the whole Bay Shore shore line and talk about the transitions and changes it's had and the people involved, including those who are criticized, and keep a history and to document it."

For example, she believes when completed the Maumee River Crossing currently under construction will help people finally realize what an asset Lake Erie is to Toledo and northwest Ohio. Not just to local residents but to others traveling from abroad as well.

"The new bridge is going to give a perspective of Toledo that people haven't had. I think it's going to show the mouth of the Maumee River and you'll be able to see it aerially. A lot of the public will be able to see it that have not been able to see it before," she says.

"I think from a perspective, the waterfront is a real magnet and I think the world will continue to grow and therefore, I believe, with the new bridge and Maumee Bay State Park and the other things is that the quality of life has generally been increasing and we would hope as an organization to continue to advocate for that and to clean up some of the existing problems."

Certainly, she says, allowing a coking plant to come to Toledo is not a good step in that direction. For example, despite the coke plant's state-of-the-art technology the group says they can document that mercury will be emitted. They say there is currently no mandate for a permit to be issued to monitor mercury levels, yet at the same time an advisory exists limiting how much Lake Erie perch and walleye people should eat because of mercury levels.

The group's members vary in age and experience, but some of the older members remember a day when you could eat as much Lake Erie fish as you wanted. They also remember some of the old factories once located in East Toledo and Oregon, such as a former coking plant that left dust and residue in its wake.

"It's (industrial emissions) not good for the environment, it's not good for the water shed, not good for people to breathe. The American Lung Association, an allergy and asthma organization, says we're the seventh worst city in the country when it comes to allergies and asthma," Mrs. Bihn contends.

Other concerns include dredging that takes place in the bay so ships can enter the port as well as the effect agricultural runoff has had on the water shed. The group cites the problems experienced in Harbor View because of residue blown into the community by prevailing winds, but they say they also understand the importance of industry and jobs.

For example, although members of the Maumee Bay Association would like to see the dredging stopped, they say they understand it cannot be stopped and does have a value to the community.  In turn, they would like to offer solutions, such as taking dredge material to mines in Southern Ohio or filling in Lake Erie islands that have gradually eroded over time.

As the group formalizes and makes their stand, Mrs. Bihn says they want to operate by educating, providing alternatives, and hopefully they will begin to have a voice in the community.

"I think it is important from a health perspective and everything else that we look at industry coming into the area and try to get clean industry," Bihn added.

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