Ohio marina plan causes controversy

MIDDLE BASS ISLAND, Ohio – Boaters and environmentalists are bumping heads once again, this time in Ohio, where the state’s plan to expand a marina to provide dock space around Lake Erie’s islands, have some worrying that an endangered snake’s habitat may be harmed, the Akron Beacon Journal reported in a recent story.

Norman Schultz, executive director of the Boating Association of Ohio, told the newspaper that the existing marina on Middle Bass Island is third-rate, and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources wants to enlarge it from 50 to 360 dock spaces. The agency bought 124 acres on the island five years ago to develop a state park with camping, fishing and boating.

“It’s past time to deliver on the promises that were made when this property was purchased,” Schultz said.

Expanding the marina would mean destroying or disturbing just over four acres of wetlands located primarily on a man-made peninsula built in the early 1960s. At a meeting to discuss the marina plan earlier this week, boaters said they want construction to start right away because there is a shortage of recreational dock space, the Beacon Journal reported.

The wetlands area is home to the Lake Erie water snake, a nonpoisonous, gray or brownish snake found only near the islands and along the mainland’s shoreline. The snake is listed by the state as endangered.

To make up for wetlands that would be taken by the project, the state has proposed restoring 39 acres of wetlands and fisheries near East Harbor State Park in Ottawa County, about 10 miles from the island.

But conservationists questioned the plan. “We’re skeptical of the claims this might improve the habitat for the snakes,” John Ritzenthaler, director of habitat conservation for Audubon Ohio, told the newspaper.

However, John Onacila, a former president of the Greater Cleveland Boating Association, said a larger marina would be a safe harbor for boaters caught in storms and another spot to dock boats on crowded summer weekends.

“Snakes are important, but so are people,” Onacila told the Beacon Journal.

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