ANGOLA — Four of nine counties spanned by the Michidoh Aquifer were represented at a recent meeting to form a tri-state governmental unit.

On July 30, Steuben County Commissioners joined officials from Hillsdale County, Michigan and Defiance and Williams counties in Ohio for an organizational meeting held in Bryan, Ohio.

The council will be called the Ohio, Michigan, Indiana Council of Government “with a primary focus of identifying the aquifer boundaries through scientific studies for the purpose of future monitoring,” said a news release sent by Steuben County Commissioners.

Meetings have been held over the past year by county commissioner representatives pertaining to constituent concerns about the Michindoh Aquifer. Artesian of Pioneer, based in Pioneer, Ohio has applied with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to site a test well in Fulton County. The potential water utility would send an estimated 15 million gallons a day out of the aquifer boundaries to Toledo suburbs.

The suburbs are traditionally served by Toledo’s municipal water utility, which draws water from Lake Erie. Along with the cost of the service, Toledo-area consumers fear the effects of toxic algae detected in the lake.

Council

Counties represented in the council include Steuben, DeKalb and Allen counties, Williams, Fulton and Defiance counties in Ohio and Lenawee, Hillsdale and Branch counties in Michigan.

Four of the counties, including Steuben County, signed articles of agreement to form the tri-state council. The document has gone through revisions and has been reviewed by all the counties’ commissioners, said Steuben County Commissioner Ron Smith, who signed it on July 30.

“Due to time constraints, other counties will be participating but were unable to take action prior to this meeting,” said the news release.

Among the concerns that led to the drafting of a home-rule charter initiative in Williams County was that the government was not acting very quickly, if at all, in defense of the water. The charter initiative was denied by the Williams County Board of Elections, and its finding was upheld by the county court. According to an article in the Bryan Times, the Williams County Alliance intends to protest the board of elections’ action to the Ohio Secretary of State. If the secretary of state’s office upholds the board of elections ruling that the charter initiative is unconstitutional, the issue could go before the Ohio Supreme Court.

The Williams County proposed charter maintained the traditional county government structure while adding protections specifically for the Michindoh Aquifer.

Ohio’s state constitution allows municipalities and counties to create local charters providing their governments with citizen-granted powers. Summit and Cuyahoga counties in Ohio have achieved home rule status while the majority of the counties remain under state authority.

Home rule

In Indiana, because the state constitution devotes little attention to county government, “most of the powers of county government and the responsibilities of county officials are found in specific statutes and the ‘home rule’ statute,” said the 2009 guide to county government published by the Association of Indiana Counties. Prior to the adoption of home rule in Indiana in 1980, county government was assumed an extension of the state government and subject exclusively to the will of the Indiana General Assembly.

The General Assembly drafted the home rule statute to meet the diversity of needs of local governments, says the guide. It granted to them any powers “not expressly denied by the Indiana Constitution or a statute, or granted to another entity,” says Indiana code.

Federal law considers states similarly sovereign. They retain power to make laws covering anything not preempted by the federal Constitution, federal statutes or international treaties ratified by the U.S. Senate.

The Council of State Governments’ National Center for Interstate Compacts defines compacts as “contracts between two or more states creating an agreement on a particular policy issue, adopting a certain standard or cooperating on regional or national matters.”

There are more than 200 active interstate compacts and at least 38 are water compacts.

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