WEDCO PRESENTS … On August 30, 2021, WEDCO was present again with WC Commissioners to present info on AquaBounty and request the passage of a motion for an Enterprise Zone Agreement. Seen here are Keira Grandey and Megan Hausch from WEDCO with Commissioners Lew Hilkert, Terry Rummel and Brian Davis. (PHOTO BY REBECCA MILLER, STAFF)
By: Rebecca Miller
The Thursday morning, August 26, 2021, Williams County Commissioners meeting was just a few minutes long with the commissioners approving the following:
-Resolution 293 Supplemental Appropriations on behalf of Airport Authority, EMS, Engineer’s Office, Sanitary Engineer/Sewer Debt., Sheriff’s office and Treasurer
-Resolution 294 Entering into a Subsidy Grant Agreement between Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, Division of Parole and Community Services, Bureau of Community Sanctions and WC Court of Common Pleas Adult Probation Department
-Resolution 295 Reducing the Legal Load Limits for Bridge at 08370 CR 8M
-Resolution 296 Appointment of Signatory to Ohio Public Works Commission Disbursement Request Form and Certification
-Minutes of prior meeting and payment of bills
-Also signed: Change Order #1 Bridge and Culvert Replacement Program; Special Hauling Permit #21 -049 – Boettcher Sewer and Excavating; Dog Warden Weekly Report for week of August 16-22, 2021; Approving recommendation from Department of Aging to change Jacob Nobis to Seasonal and Hiring Darlin Nofzinger as Home Delivery Driver; and approving the recommendation from EMS to hire Kevin Myles as full time Basic EMT
The Monday morning, August 30, 2021 first portion of the meeting was also quite short with the following items receiving approval:
-Resolution 297 Supplemental Appropriations on behalf of Common Pleas Court, Coroner, Department of Aging, Engineer’s Office and Sheriff’s Office
-Resolution 298 Entering into a Contract Extension between WC JFS and K&P Transportation
-Also signed: Approval of request from Todd Roth, WC Engineer allowing signature to an application to participate in the Water Pollution Control Loan Fund to include Alvordton Sanitary Sewer Project; Credit Card Appropriation for Recorder’s Office for September 2021; Office of Community Development OCEAN User Agreement; Purchase Documents for 2021 Ford Explorer for Adult Probation Department
-Minutes for August 26, 2021 and payment of bills
The Board then went into recess for close to an hour before rejoining in Regular Session with WEDCO to present the EZ application on behalf of AquaBounty.
Megan Hausch has been before the Williams County Commissioners four times with AquaBounty info as well as presenting it to the Pioneer Village Council, the North Central School Board and hosting the AquaBounty Virtual Town Hall.
She has become quite an expert on the information involved and during the Monday morning, August 30, 2021, meeting of the WC Commissioners, despite the fact that she spoke quickly to cover all the information, Ms. Hausch gave a lengthy and detailed presentation of the steps involved in the Enterprise Zone Project with AquaBounty.
Also present for the presentation was Debra Holbrook Beevers, who has filed a petition to run for a seat on the Commissioners Board in November. The presentation went from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Hausch stated at the beginning of this presentation that she wants to “help the public fully understand Enterprise Zone, what we are her to do today, and also to understand the process.” She took time to share the following information:
-The process actually started from a Jobs Ohio lead through the Regional Growth Partnership, so, “just like any other state lead that we would receive. In April of 2020 we got a project code name.” WEDCO reached out to the WC communities and asked if any of them wanted to submit on this Request for Information (RFI).
They received some affirmatives and some negatives and “the matching asset that we did have on the books was the Pioneer Industrial Park.” She stated that there is “some misinformation out there that we started looking at this four years ago, and it is completely false. It has been a little over a year, which is very lengthy, but it is a very intense process.”
-The company, AquaBounty, narrowed the list down to the top five sites in April or May, with Pioneer being one of the five. AquaBounty began reviewing their top sites after Williams County had a site visit from them.
That visit involved about ten site selectors, from all over the country, actually coming in person to Pioneer in July of 2020 to look at the site. They had also been considering a site in Kentucky and had even announced for Kentucky in October, but “they announced it too early as they weren’t quite done finishing their research.
It was a mistake and they realized that Pioneer was ultimately a better site and a better match. But understand that still no decision was really made until weeks before this announcement came out.”
-“As with any economic development project, nothing is done until you see a shovel on the ground.” She said that any economic development project involves a great number of aspects including getting all the answers, approvals, grants, public information, etc. and they are working to cover all of those aspects.
-This facility will produce eight times the amount of fish as the Indiana facility. “This company has been around for thirty years. It has taken that long to get through the regulatory processes just for their genetically modified fish, and also the genetic modification happened on these fish thirty years ago and they have been maintaining and commercializing this process for that long.
-Despite the $200,000,000 investment, this company is considered a small business with about 80 employees. “At full capacity at this new facility, they plan to employ approximately 112 people with an annual payroll of over 5.4 million dollars which makes that cumulative average wage just under $49,000.
These are higher quality jobs that will be higher wages than what we see in our region…requiring different types of skill sets.” The hiring of the 112 will be spread out over a five year period because construction will take about two years.
The jobs will need people with degrees in Biology, Chemistry, Research and development s well as other training. The company will be responsible for finding those types of employees and attracting their workforce from or to the area. The schools are excited about the opportunity for their graduates being this close to home.
-Normally WEDCO does not spend so much effort informing the public about the product of a company, as their job is really “to facilitate the environment that makes it conducive to economic growth in our community.”
For this company, there have been some misinterpretations over the past weeks in social media as to what they do and how they do it. There are No Antibiotics used and the “reason for that is the water quality. So in thirty years the company has Never Used any antibiotics at their research and development where they produce fish, or in their Indiana facility.
They track the fish’ health constantly and intensely. She repeated, “So there is a lot of misinformation that these fish are pumped with antibiotics and that is just not the case.” Concerning the genetic modification she again stated that it was “one time, thirty years ago to make their fish grow faster, so instead of taking that traditional three years like wild salmon, it takes eighteen months.”
-The Fish Never Escape the facility as multiple systems are in place to prevent any eggs, or full size fish, or anything from leaving the facility…”so the biosecurity is very important.”
This company wants to be successful, are following the additional regulations they have on them, and want to keep the environment safe and be good neighbors.
-Northwest Ohio has a great transportation system and this will help the company to reach 60% of the US population within a day’s drive with their fresh product.
Ms. Hausch mentioned the Virtual Town Hall which was held in which questions were answered, adding that she is happy to take more questions and get them to AquaBounty for answers.
She presented, again, where the site will be and what it will look like. A Water Treatment plant will be built to clean the water when it is being taken out of the facility. Kexon drive will be expanded to reach the new company.
“The CDBG funds for this Kexon Drive project are a completely separate process from the Enterprise Zone Agreement. They are two very separate things. The public road extension is a piece of the project but it is a PUBLIC road extension.
The company will have to pay for any other utilities or infrastructure that is going to be on the company’s private property.” She wanted to be sure that the public knows that the county will not be funding All of the infrastructure that goes to the facility. “That is just not the case and I did want to make that clarification,” Hausch said.
She said that the Kexon Dr. Expansion does serve AquaBounty but it will also open up a large amount of acreage for future companies as well, serving a larger purpose.
She added, “The reason why we can get these public funds to invest now is because of this project.” Quite a few grant sources have been secured for the public road extension: Transportation Improvement District funds for $349,000 through ODOT; ODOT Jobs and commerce for $74,000; “629 funds from the State of Ohio, the Ohio Department of Development in the amount of $445,900. So we have secured the majority of the funding for this public road extension and the corresponding infrastructure.”
They are also working on securing other grant funding “to not put that burden on the Village or anyone else,” she said.
She mentioned some other concerns that have been expressed in social media and clarified on those: the building will not glow at nighttime or be like the greenhouse in Delta; It will have normal security lighting; it will not smell like fish…this is something they are constantly making sure does not happen and it has never been an issue at the Indiana plant; the pond in front of the facility will not have any fish in it as it is just a normal retention pond; the company is working on the math to let the community know how many gallons of water will be sitting inside the tanks at any given point in time; there will not be traditional tours, with kids, available as it is a Bio-secure facility, but they are working on trying to design a viewing room.
Construction will begin in the fourth quarter of 2021, by phases. The main purpose of the meeting with the Commissioners was for the Enterprise Zone process, so Hausch shared some education on this topic as well. “No mayor or legislative entity independently, or a politician, no one can just give a tax abatement,” she began.
“I think that is very important for people to know, because there are a ton of people involved in this process. It can never happen with just one person moving it through. You have to follow the laws for the State of Ohio.
In your county you do have an Enterprise Zone Manager, which happens to be myself. So we manage the process, but we also have tons of people involved throughout the state to finish, as well as the follow up. I think that it is very important to share that there is a system of checks and balances, that is established by the State of Ohio, going through an Enterprise Zone Tax Abatement.
There are laws we have to follow, like the maximum terms of agreements, which for this agreement are set up to 100% for up to fifteen years.” She went on to explain that the schools will be receiving donation payments in lieu of the tax revenue that they traditionally get from a new company.
For an Enterprise Zone Agreement to happen, it begins with an application to the Ohio Department of Development with the reasons given for why they want it, with most of the company’s reason being to get a tax abatement.
This one was a lengthy process with “lots of back and forth” as they gathered information and adjusted to the changes that happened. The second step is the internal review of the Enterprise Zone Agreement with WEDCO being responsible for crafting the agreement.
They follow the Ohio Revised Code and the local requirements, with the process including the Village Solicitor’s approval, as well as the County Prosecutor’s approval.
At that point, WEDCO sent a formal school notification to the local school district (NC) and the joint vocational system (Four County). Meetings were held with the school boards, and sometimes with the village there as well so that everyone understood the project fully.
She pointed out that on August 19, 2021 they had unanimous approval from all school board members, from Four County Career Center and on August 23, 2021, from North Central Local Schools.
The next step in the process, after the school approvals and they finished the waiting period, was to schedule the municipal Council meeting, which was done for the Village of Pioneer on August 26, 2021 after being advertised in the local paper. Unanimous approval was also given by the Pioneer Village Council that evening.
The step she was present at the Commissioners Meeting for, on August 30, 2021, was to wrap up everything and get approval for the Enterprise Zone Agreement.
She stated that even with their approval, WEDCO still has to “compile all of the information gathered thus far and submit a formal packet to the Ohio Department of Development, but even then it is not one and done.”
There will be a continual yearly tracking of the job creation, constant communication with AquaBounty as they are doing all the construction, and the ability to do an amendment if needed.
She commented on the fact that the “pause on the CDBG is ok as they take time for due diligence.” As there are many “sets of eyes” on the project and everyone is making sure that “due diligence” is done.
“There are multiple organizations, many people who are doing the work behind the scenes. It is not just one person making up the data. It is teams of people investigating this because it is so important for the company and their product, but also the community.”
If any business is not compliant with their enterprise zone agreement their tax abatement can be revoked at any time. She said that as far as she is aware the county has never had to do that, but it is in the agreement for the county’s protection.
As Megan Hausch is the Enterprise Zone manager, she wants the public to know that she is happy to answer questions anytime.
She spent some time speaking about the different phases of this specific project and said that the time can change because of the weather and other factors. For more specific details, readers can go to the Williams County Commissioners minutes for August 30, 2021, online and read even more details.
She mentioned that the the Enterprise Zone agreement is completely separate from the CDBG, even though they can run simultaneously. At that point in the presentation, she asked the Commissioners to “continue to move this forward with the infrastructure donation agreement, a requirement of the enterprise zone agreement itself, and also move the Enterprise Zone Agreement forward.
Commissioner Brian Davis said, “The one thing I want to point out that is very important about this agreement is that IF the ODNR does not permit this process, the agreement is null and void.
It has no value, so I mean I just want to point that out because I am not certain people understand that.” If ODNR does not approve, then AquaBounty would not have a project and there would be no Enterprise Zone Agreement.
Commissioner Lew Hilkert asked Ms. Hausch if the construction can begin prior to the permission from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and she said, “That is to be determined.
More conversations will need to happen, because they do want to start on the site in November 2021.” They will not start putting up a building until they are pretty close to 100% sure they are going to get the permit. Hilkert added,
“Is that what you mean from the standpoint of if ODNR determines there isn’t sufficient water, and they do not issue a permit, in your opinion this project would not go forward. Is that correct.” Hausch responded, “Correct. The water – the quality, consistency and quantity – that is the determining factor of whether or not this is feasible.”
Hilkert also said, “I think there is a misconception out there that we, the Commissioners, will determine that, and we have zero input as to what the Ohio Department of Natural Resources will determine, either to accept or deny. I would like the media to understand that, we the Board of Commissioners have zero responsibility in making that decision.”
Commissioner Davis also weighed in on this point, saying, “The EPA impact study…there is a lot of misconception that we approved that study before ODNR even weighed in.
It had nothing to do with the water. It has to do with the actual buildings, so as an example, if Spangler wanted to build a large building, or whoever, we would have the same impact study.
It has to to do with the domestic water, sewage and storm sewer that the building would use. It has nothing to do with the Aquifer, nothing whatsoever, so I think there has just been a lot of incorrect information.
Ms. Hausch spoke again about “pressing the pause button” on the CDBG, which is what the Press Release was about on Saturday, August 28, 2021.
“Again, that is not a bad thing, or a negative toward the project. It is just saying that we need more time to get this done, because we take the environmental piece so seriously.”
She went on to say that it is not up to the Commissioners or WEDCO to determine anything about the environmental impact. That is up to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Davis asked about the affect of the private donations to the schools, as to whether it will impact their actual donations or funding from the state. Hausch answered that it is a private donation so it will not affect the state allotment.
Commissioner Terry Rummel commented that this donation is going to be over $700,000 a year so will be “huge to Pioneer schools for this to go through.”
There was some discussion also about how it will be good for the schools in other ways as well as financially, offering opportunities for new programs.
Commissioner Hilkert thanked Ms. Hausch for the time she has put into putting the program together and presenting it to all who needed to see it and for getting the proper information out for all who want to learn about it.
Hausch said that they are planning more events for the company, that will be in person so that the community can meet them and talk with them. “The company really wants to make sure they are as transparent as possible,” she added. “Patience is a big part of economic development.
It is tough when things have to be done in such a public way, where you would love to have all the answers on day one, but sometimes you just have to wait for them. But there will be answers.
Again, that due diligence is such an important piece for everybody, for the community and for the company to be successful her in Williams County,” she said as she wrapped up the presentation.
Commissioner Rummel made a motion to move forward with signing the agreement that was brought to them, and the Infrastructure Donation as well.
Commissioner Hilkert seconded the motion, with a little more discussion, adding his comment, “In regards to this project, as we look at it over and above the action that we are about to take here, there are two parts to this project. The first part has to do with the site in the Village of Pioneer.
It was stated that this project would have no environmental impact on the area, and that statement was in regards to the property in the Village of Pioneer. It has to do with the infrastructure, the water, the domestic water supply, the sewer and the storm sewer for that area.” Hausch added, “for the public road extension – a key phrase.”
Hilkert continued, “The second part of that is the permit that is being applied for through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to extract up to 5 million gallons a day out of the aquifer to be used in the operation to grow the fish.
That is the part that we as commissioners have no responsibility over. It is ALL ODNR, and I think it is important that we understand that before we move forward on a vote as to whether or not to accept the Enterprise Zone Agreement. So I wanted to make that statement.”
The Commissioners then took a Roll Call vote with unanimous approval of the motion. With no further business, the commissioners went into a short recess before adjourning for the day.
Rebecca can be reached at email@example.com