PERRYSBURG — Lake Erie took center stage at the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments’ 2019 General Assembly meeting on Monday.
The group’s 2019-20 Agenda for Lake Erie was presented; the keynote presentation was from the Ohio Travel Association.
“The eight lake shore counties bring in over one third of Ohio’s travel and tourism income, about $15 billion each year. That component of our economy is being impacted by the health of Lake Erie,” said Tim Brown, TMACOG president.
The group’s annual meeting had more than 230 participants from a wide range of local governments and businesses. The program agenda is built around networking for elected officials and governmental employees, leading into the annual general assembly meeting.
This year, members were presented with the new TMACOG 2019-20 Agenda for Lake Erie document, representing “TMACOG member’s commitment to the restoration and preservation of the region’s greatest natural resource, Lake Erie.”
The document is meant to be used for establishing the policy background for formal comments on proposed rules and regulations, for drafting official resolutions, and for requesting action from legislators or regulatory agencies.
With the toxic algal bloom of August 2014 underpinning the document, it lays out legal tools, regulations and funding mechanisms with the policy agendas recommended by TMACOG. Those agendas encompass each of what TMACOG identifies as the primary issues affecting the bloom. That includes municipal stormwater, natural drainage system restoration and protection, wastewater treatment, and agricultural practices.
Melinda Huntley, executive director of the Ohio Travel Association, gave the keynote presentation on Lake Erie’s impact on travel, tourism and its relation to business in the Northwest Ohio region.
Huntley gave statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Economics ranking Ohio as seventh in the nation for jobs supported by travel. Travel and tourism is a $44 billion industry in Ohio and she noted that with 88 counties in the state, the eight lake shore counties make up 34 percent of that business.
The algal bloom continues to hit the travel and tourism of the area because of the internet. She did research showing that news about the event has a negative effect on tourism in the region.
“The images linger and keep affecting the economy. It’s not just cancellations. It’s also about the people who never came here,” Huntley said.
Brown said he also sees the impact.
“There are less people today chartering boats to go fishing and less people staying at our hotels and our restaurants because of it, so Lake Erie’s health is a component of our state’s travel and tourism dollars,” he said.
Another component of the annual meeting is the morning caucus event which puts the various municipalities in a room together to talk about current issues.
Some of the other issues that came up in the caucuses included escalating costs of employee benefits to small municipalities, a possible gas tax on the ballot this fall, and the “Nautical Mile” that would help connect some parks.
A new committee has been created to address issues related to automated vehicles. It will be headed by David Gedeon, TMACOG vice president of transportation.
TMACOG defines itself as “a non-partisan regional planning partnership made up of voluntary members in Northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan. Together, TMACOG members work on transportation, water quality, and other economic development endeavors that affect quality of life for everyone in our region.”