TAFT ANNOUNCES PLAN TO PRESERVE NORTH BASS ISLAND
State to Purchase Last Major Undeveloped Island In Lake Erie
COLUMBUS Governor Bob Taft today announced the state’s intention to purchase 589 acres, or 87 percent of North Bass Island in Lake Erie for $17.4 million, using a nearly equal match of state and federal funds. Taft said the state plans to preserve the island’s natural setting by offering low-impact recreation such as primitive camping sites, hiking trails, and opportunities for hunting, fishing, swimming and nature study.
“This is an unprecedented opportunity for the people of Ohio to protect and preserve the last remaining undeveloped islands of any size in Lake Erie,” Taft said. “Thanks to this opportunity and the funding partnership we have put in place, we are meeting our obligation to preserve Ohio’s natural heritage for our own time and for generations to come.”
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) will seek approval from the state Controlling Board on December 15 to release $9.4 million in state funds to purchase the property from Paramount Distillers, Inc., of Cleveland. This includes $6.8 million already appropriated by the General Assembly for this purpose in the state’s 2003-04 capital budget. The remaining $8 million will be funded through federal grants from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Department of Interior’s Land and Water Conservation Fund. In addition, a portion of the state’s expenditure will be eligible for a match with federal Pittman-Robertson wildlife funds.
The Conservation Fund, a Virginia-based nonprofit organization, will partner with the state to purchase the property and then transfer ownership once all the funding has been secured. If approved by the Controlling Board, the state expects to acquire the property from the Conservation Fund in two phases later this winter.
Taft recognized U.S. Senators Mike DeWine and George Voinovich for their assistance in helping the state acquire federal funding to help make the project possible. He also praised Paramount Distillers for selling the property significantly below market value representing a generous gift to the people of Ohio.
The acquisition area includes nearly 2.5 miles of undeveloped shoreline, 58 acres of natural coastal wetlands, unique geologic features, and numerous state and federal endangered species. The island has also been known since the mid-1800s for its vineyards, which today occupy less than 85 acres. Aware of the historic and economic importance of grape production on the island, the state plans to continue Paramount’s lease arrangement with Firelands Vineyards of Sandusky to grow and harvest grapes on the property.
North Bass Island, also known as Isle St. George, is the northern-most of Ohio's Lake Erie Islands. It is located 18 miles from the Ohio mainland and less than 2 miles from the international border with Canada. With only two dozen year-round residents, the 677-acre island has a one-room schoolhouse, a church and 12 small, privately owned properties parcels that will not be acquired by the state.