Michindoh Water Protest Movement Makes Its Voice Heard At Pioneer Village Council Meeting
Council meetings can range from the notoriously mundane, to droll, to animated. On the evening of August 13, the regular session of the Pioneer Village Council at times looked more like the buildup to a WWE grudge match than a Council meeting. As per the usual, this meeting was chaired by Mayor Ed Kidston, the same Ed Kidston who is the President of Artesian of Pioneer, Inc. (AOP). When Mr. Kidston recently announced the plans for AOP to tap the Michindoh Aquifer and sell water to communities east of the aquifer, it set off a firestorm of protests, both passive and active. On the evening of August 13, a substantial group of protesters were on hand to, in no uncertain terms, make their case known that they are highly opposed to the proposed AOP project. It was also the first meeting for new Councilor Randy Cochran, who stepped into the vacancy created by the retirement of longtime Councilor and former Mayor, David Thompson. Councilor Cochran’s ‘maiden voyage’ would be made most memorable before the night was through.
For an hour before the start of the meeting, the protesters and their signs had packed into the corner of First and North State Streets. At the meeting time neared, they began to peel off and make their way to the Pioneer Community Center, where the meeting was to take place. They then began to filter into the building itself, quickly turning the normally sparsely attended Council meeting into a standing room only affair. Prior to the opening of business, Village Administrator Al Fiser twice announced that those wishing to address Council needed to sign the sheets provided at one of the front tables.
Mayor Kidston called the meeting to order at 7:00, and after approval of the agenda, the minutes from the previous meeting, the July financial report and the payment of bills, the floor was opened for the first of two audience speaking sessions. First to address the gathering was Mr. Josh Nichols.
“I think the community’s concern is that water is the most vital of all resources,” Mr. Nichols said. “It sustains all life, sustains agriculture, sustains industry, sustains residential. Other instances of this around the country, that is where they tapped in aquifers, and they’re running dry. I think history just shows that this is a bad idea…period. I think that the citizens have zero to gain, and you have everything to gain…everything. We have more to lose. It’s all for money. Nobody here stands to gain, nobody except for you…that’s wrong.”
Shortly afterward, a Mr. Norman Nichols came forward and said, “I speak in opposition to the sale of water. I live in Indiana; I’m not a voter here in Ohio. I live on State Road 120, maybe five miles from the corner of the three states. Our well went down in the year 2006. It cost about $4,000. I want that to be the last well I put down. If that should go dry, I don’t know how far they would have to go. It’s 128 foot now. I don’t know what it would take to get another one.”
Longtime resident, Mr. Lee Clymer, came forward and drew comparisons between the Ogallala Aquifer of the Great Plains, and the Michindoh. He noted that the Ogallala is going dry, and that the same thing may happen to the Michindoh under the AOP plan. He recalled that there used to be a ‘Water Court’ to which locals would have to make their case before putting down a well. He asked Mayor Kidston if he had looked into the Water Court, to which the Mayor replied that he had not. “You haven’t done your due diligence,” Mr. Clymer said to the Mayor.
Mr. Jerry Potts came forward, and made a case using an intriguing comparison. “I just want to put it in the perspective of what it means to the people around here,” he said. “It’s the same thing as if some rich guy in Canada wanted to steal water from Lake Erie. Say they drained Lake Erie. You don’t think United States ain’t going to wake up and say, ‘No, we’re not going to put up with this?’ That’s how we feel when you look at this. That’s how we feel about what you’re doing. You’re the Canada; it’s all about money, and all that’s all I’m saying. I live over in Alvordton. I live on County Road S, six miles out of town. My well is 110 foot deep, so I’m hoping you don’t do this. Please. I’m praying that you don’t do this. Because if it’s all about money, it ain’t worth it. It ain’t worth it.”
“The State of Ohio will have to approve everything that I do,” Mayor Kidston said. From somewhere in the crowd, a voice was raised in response, “What about the state of Indiana? And Michigan?”
With all those who signed the speaking list having either taken their turn or passing, Mayor Kidston moved forward in the agenda, reading a proposed resolution. “Resolution 108-2018 is a resolution recognizing and prompting the importance of the groundwater aquifer,” he read, “…and opposition to drilling for, or private distribution of, the groundwater from the Michindoh Glacial Outwash Aquifer, to locations outside of the designated aquifer. Is there a motion to approve?” The motion to approve was given by Councilor Albert Kwader. Mayor Kidston recognized the motion, and asked, “Is there a second?” After three seconds of silence, a single muffled, “Come on,” was heard from the audience, which quickly crescendoed into a clamor for action. Shouts of, “Who do you represent,” “You’re kidding me,” “The elections are coming up,” “You were elected to represent us,” and “We’re going to vote you out,” could be heard above the din. Twenty seconds after asking for a second to Councilor Kwader’s motion, Mayor Kidston declared the resolution failed for a lack of a second. That declaration did little to abate the growing ire of the audience, who then turned on the remaining five Councilors. As statements like, “You should be ashamed of yourselves,” “Chicken,” and “Cowards,” were being leveled at the Councilors, Chief of Police Tim Livengood came forward to present his report to Council.
Having to battle the background noise of a still grumbling audience, Chief Livengood began his report by noting that a couple of candidates have submitted applications for the new School Resource Officer position. He was then interrupted by a call from the audience to, “Stand for what’s right, even if you’re standing alone. Stand for what’s right!” Mayor Kidston tried to continue the meeting, saying, “Folks, you’ve had your piece.” “Our vote counts,” was replied back to the Mayor, who responded, “Your vote counts. We gave you time to speak.” It was then that a man came forward and demanded an answer to his question of what will be done if his well should run dry, saying, “It’s our water. When our well goes dry, are you going to pay for a new well? Are you going to pay to get us water, at no cost to us? It’s our water,” he exclaimed. “Settle down,” Mayor Kidston said to the visible agitated man. Unable to proceed with his report, Chief Livengood turned to the audience and said, “Excuse me, please. Listen, please. Though I do understand your First Amendment rights to have your free speech, the Mayor did take the opportunity to afford the opportunity for people to come in and address their situations peaceably. Those of you who had the opportunity to sign the list to have your say, the opportunity has come and gone. We still have to conduct the government business for the governing body. And all we can do is just ask your cooperation in that, and if you have personal issues that you would like to address with the Mayor, I’m sure that he’s available at request to be able to do that on a one-on-one basis.” It was then that a walkout was called for.
As the protesters were making their way out, Chief Livengood returned to attempt to give his report, but the noise continued. Mayor Kidston made multiple attempts to get the protesters to cease talking amongst themselves so that the business of the village could be conducted. Village Administrator Fiser reported that two bids had been received for the Toledo Western Total Reconstruction Project, which included the Clear Fork Drive, Pioneer Avenue and Briarwood Lane projects. The bids received were from Lukazcek Excavating and Drainage, LLC of Quincy, Michigan, in the amount of $2,263,994.13, and that bid was recommended for approval by the project engineer, Bell Engineering of Bryan. The other bid that was received came from Vernon Nagel, Inc., of Napoleon in the amount of $2,266,286.05. Again, Mayor Kidston asked that the remaining protesters in the building cease their chatter so that the Council meeting could proceed. One member of the audience said that she could not hear, and that Council should be using a speaker system. Mayor Kidston replied, “We’re trying to conduct a meeting up here. There’s a seat up front here if you’d like.” The lady replied that there was no seating in the front when she came in. “Now there is,” Mayor Kidston replied. “We are on the administrator’s report, and I would like for my Council members to be able to hear my administrator’s report. So if you want to talk, please just remove yourself outside. You’re welcome to stay.”
With the cacophony of background noise finally dimmed down, the second public speaking opportunity was opened. The first speaker was Pastor Gene McBride of the Pioneer Church of the Nazarene, who a few minutes earlier had opened the meeting in prayer. “The Pioneer Church of the Nazarene owns a parsonage at 206 North Wyandot Street,” he said. “That house sits on a full lot and a partial lot, and in the backyard is another full lot that is undeveloped and has no street access. Our neighbor to the east would like to purchase a portion of that lot. We have written a purchase agreement that has been signed, and that would involve 50 feet of that 132 feet that they would like to purchase since they are adjacent to it for their use. That would involve a lot split, and so we’re seeking approval to proceed with that.” Mayor Kidston replied, “What we will have to do, Pastor, is to take that to the Planning Commission first. The Planning Commission will then recommend or not recommend to Council, and we will vote on it, hopefully at the next Council meeting.”
Next to speak was Mrs. Lois Schmucker. “I have a copy of the Ordinance for the Zoning Planning Commission,” she began. “It says that the Planning Commission consists of the Mayor, a member of Council elected from its ranks, and three residents of the Village of Pioneer that are appointed by the Mayor. According to the auditor site for November 27, ‘07, til November 10 of ‘16, one the members on the Planning Commission was not a resident of Pioneer. Please explain.” Turning her attention to Councilor Cochran, she asked, “Randy, is that correct that you did not live in Pioneer from ‘07 to ‘16?” Mr. Cochran replied, “Correct.” “And he continued to be on the Planning Commission; explain that,” Mrs. Schmucker said to the Mayor. “Well, I can’t explain it,” Mayor Kidston replied. “So, it was illegal,” Mrs. Schmucker asked, “…and any decisions made were illegal for those nine years?” Village Solicitor Tom Thompson answered, saying, “That’s not necessarily the case. I don’t know when he was appointed to that spot, or how long.” Councilor Kwader said, “It was when Ed booted me off Zoning.” Mrs. Schmucker asked Councilor Kwader if he was on Council at the time, to which he said no.
“Interesting,” Mrs. Schmucker said. “Nine years you let someone on the Village Planning Commission, and they weren’t a resident?” “Let us check into it,” Mayor Kidston said. “There’s nothing to check,” Mrs. Schmucker answered. “The Auditor’s site shows when he sold his house, and when he moved back to the Village of Pioneer.” “We’ll turn it in to our attorney, and we’ll see where we’re at on it,” Mayor Kidston said.
“Albert, do you have anything,” Mayor Kidston asked Councilor Kwader, who replied, “Yes, I do. I think that you should probably resign your elected position here, because you are not taking care of the people that voted for you. You’re not taking care of a natural resource, or you’re attempting to not take care of it, and I think you need to let somebody in here that will honor the people, and honor the resources that we have before it’s too late. Thank you.” The few remaining protesters in the building gave Councilor Kwader a round of applause for his statement.
Councilor Connie Salisbury noted that the annual Senior Dinner is scheduled for December 11 at noon, and the Christmas Tree Lighting this year will be November 25, which is a Sunday. Activities will begin at 5:00, and there will be entertainment, cookies, hot chocolate, and coffee. Halloween trick or treating is scheduled for October 31 from 5:30 until 7:00.
Mayor Kidston then addressed Council and the audience, saying, “I know this proposal that I’ve presented to the group in Toledo has caused a lot of strife, and a lot of concern. But I can guarantee you, it will not affect the Village of Pioneer in any way, except for positively. It will generate tax revenue. It will generate jobs. It will generate income for this community, and it will not in any way affect anyone’s water supply. That has to be proven through the Ohio EPA, and that has to be proven through a whole bunch of red tape, and regulation, and testing. I guarantee you that no ill harm is going to come to this community, and I guarantee you that no one can ever say, ever, and ever make a factual statement that I’ve ever sat in this chair as Mayor of Pioneer and benefited personally. And if you have any facts in that regard please bring it forward, because I’d love to see it. It never happened. Now there’s all kinds of rumors out there, but it’s never happened. I guarantee I’ve never benefitted from being Mayor.”
“Let me say one more thing,” Mayor Kidston continued. We’ve heard from that group tonight. They’re out trying to scare the living daylights out of everybody, but as you notice they did not present one single fact…not one single fact. Not one. And I applaud this Council for taking a stand to the mob mentality that’s going on here, because all they want is facts. Now they picked an aquifer 1,000 miles from here. You know why? Because that’s the closest one they can pick. They didn’t talk about the St. Joseph Aquifer that feeds South Bend, Indiana and East Chicago, and has for over 100 years. They didn’t talk about the Great Miami Aquifer that feeds the city of Dayton and the city of Cincinnati, and has over 150 years. You want to know why? Because those aquifers performed just fine with big cities drawing from them. Billions and billions of gallons are drawn out of the Great Miami Aquifer. You want to know why? It’s because it gets 34 inches of rain just like we do, and it’s an Ohio like we do, and it has sandy soil just like we do. What they’re pointing to is way out west, where you get one inch of rainfall sometimes. So let’s compare apples for apples, and don’t be scared to death by a bunch of people running around, not throwing any facts…no facts. I’ve not heard one fact yet, other than the Ogallala Aquifer is being run dry. That’s a fact, but it has nothing to do with us. It’s 1,000 miles from Pioneer, Ohio. It has totally different climate conditions. It has totally different soil conditions; it has totally different conditions. None of it has anything to do with Pioneer, Ohio.”
Mayor Kidston concluded, “So please, wait for the facts. Wait for all of the facts to come out before you reach judgment on myself, my family, or any one of the individuals up here. I’m not happy that Al took this motion, I’ll be honest, but I understand his right to do so. I appreciate that. He has a belief, and I respect that. I have a belief as well, as well as all these other Council members have a belief. There isn’t one single member up here, and I will take issue with Al’s statement in the paper. I didn’t hardly talk to any one of these members before this meeting. When I did talk to them, it was about procedure. It wasn’t bending their arm to vote one way or the other. All these people are intelligent people that have your best interest at heart, and for you to think otherwise is just a damn shame. It’s a damn shame because these dedicated people have run this community for many many years now, and they’ve done a darn good job of it, and they’ve always looked at things independently. So relax; let’s let the facts come in. I’m willing to learn facts from the other side. I’m going to look at facts on what I’m doing, but I promise you beyond a shadow of a doubt, Pioneer’s water supply, Williams County’s water supply is not in jeopardy one iota.”
“Mr. Kidston, may I challenge you on that,” said Mr. Dick Long of the Bryan Board of Public Affairs. “How are you going to guarantee that?” “I’m guaranteeing that through scientific evidence,” Mayor Kidston replied. Mr. Long countered, “Will you put that in writing? Will you accept the liability if it does?” “Absolutely,” Mayor Kidston responded; “…the EPA will make me.” “I commend Mr. Kwader,” Mr. Long said. “He’s the only one that I see on this Council that had the guts…and you folks don’t understand what’s happening?” “I’m not sure, Mr. Long, you understand what’s happening,” Mayor Kidston said. “Oh sir, I do,” Mr. Long replied.
Mr. Kidston challenged Mr. Long to produce the facts to support the stance of the Bryan BPA, to which Mr. Long replied that their most recent geological survey, dated 2007, was being updated. Should that update bear evidence that Mr. Kidston is correct, Mr. Long said that he would move to rescind the BPA resolution, stating, “If you present your facts to prove that I’m wrong, I’ll have my board together, and I’ll resend the resolution. How’s that? Is that fair enough?” Mr. Long continued his challenge, stating, “If we find facts otherwise, will you scrub what you’re trying to do?” “If I find otherwise,” Mayor Kidston replied; “If I find that you are correct, I’m scrubbing it anyway. I don’t have to come ask you to scrub it; I’m scrubbing it anyway. I love this community. I love this county and I would never do anything to the water supply in this county. I have seven grandchildren that live in this county.”
Mayor Kidston was then asked how he could be so sure, and not run the risk of creating another Ogallala Aquifer situation. “We haven’t even begun testing,” he replied. “I have pledged transparency from the very beginning, and when we get the tests done, and the tests are conclusive we will either abandon the project, or we will go forward with the project. But all the test data will be made available, and will be made available through a public record and you can get it from the EPA. The EPA is going to know everything we do. But to sit here and say that you already know we’re going to run the town dry, and you already know we’re all going to run out of water, and that you already know that everybody’s going to have to drill a new well…that’s crazy. You don’t know that. You don’t have any idea of that; you have zero facts.”
Council President Rod Eckley spoke, saying, “I’ll just speak for me because I can’t speak for the rest of the people here, the Council members who did not second the motion. For us, for me, it’s about needing more information. The gentleman back here said we need more information so we know when you’re testing, and then you’ll see the testing, it’ll make a difference. You say you’re going to get the testing, and it’s going to make a difference, and that’s all great; that’s what we want to see. I want to see some information. I don’t have information. I’ve got what Ed’s saying…it’s going be great; it’s not going affect anything, and not going to harm anything. And I’ve got an angry mob saying we’re going to be devastated, and I don’t know. I don’t know. I would like to see some facts, some testing, some information and I know the EPA is not going let it fly if it’s not right. Maybe I’m wrong, but if it starts up and it causes a problem I think the EPA is going to stop it, aren’t they? I’ve got a a lot of confidence in him (Mayor Kidston). Yeah, he doesn’t have me in his back pocket. I’m not on his payroll like I’ve seen people throw it around on Facebook. He’s not paying me to say anything or do anything I do. I do think he’s done a lot for the town. I don’t know if what he wants to do is going to work or not. I want to see information…that’s all I want.
Council addressed the aforementioned Toledo Western Parkway Reconstruction project, and all other affiliated projects in a series of Ordinances. Under suspended rules of reading, Council approved Ordinance 08-2018, determining to proceed with the improvement of Toledo Western Parkway by reconstructing Toledo Western Parkway from the northernmost point of the platted cul-de-sac at the north end of Lakeshore Drive, north to Toledo Western Parkway, and then continuing west to the easternmost point of the intersection of Briarwood Lane and Toledo Western Parkway, a distance of approximately 1,810 linear feet, to include new pavement, new curbs, new storm drainage, new sanitary force main and waterline replacement.
Ordinance 09-2018, determining to proceed with the improvement of Pioneer Avenue by reconstruction Pioneer Avenue from the northernmost point of the intersection of Clear Fork Drive and Pioneer Avenue, to the westernmost point of the intersection of Pioneer Avenue and Briarwood Lane, a distance of approximately 860 linear feet, to include new pavement, new curbs, new storm drainage and waterline replacement was approved under suspended rules of reading, as was Ordinance 10-2018. This measure was an Ordinance determining to proceed with the improvement of Clear Fork Drive by reconstructing Clear Fork Drive from the northernmost point of the intersection of Clear Fork Drive and Pioneer Avenue North approximately 600’ to a point 15’ south of the north property line of lot 6 in the Pioneer County Heights Subdivision, to include new pavement, new curbs, new storm draining and waterline replacement.
Council again suspended the rules of reading and moved forward. Next up was Ordinance 11-2018, an Ordinance determining to proceed with the improvement of Briarwood Lane by reconstructing Briarwood Lane from the northernmost point of the intersection of Briarwood Lane and Pioneer Avenue, to the southernmost point of the intersection of Briarwood Lane and Toledo Western Parkway, a distance of approximately 550 linear feet, to include new pavement, new curbs, and new storm draining and waterline replacement.
Ordinance 12-2018 approved the plat of Big Ten Addition first extension, accepting the donation of right-of-way for the purpose of construction of street and utilities within the Village of Pioneer, and Ordinance 13-2018 approved the replat of Lot 5, Big Ten Addition. Finally, Ordinance 14-2018 amended appropriations for 2018.
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