BY SHERI TRUSTY
Port Clinton and Oak Harbor are facing a bright, collaborative future in 2024. Port Clinton Mayor Mike Snider and Oak Harbor Mayor Quinton Babcock have full slates of projects in their hands, some of which will kick off this year and some which will culminate after years of effort.
“I think what shocks a lot of people is how long it takes big projects to get done. It can easily take four years of planning and preliminary work to make big projects happen,” Babcock said.
No one knows that better than Snider, who has been working toward infrastructure improvements in the city since he became mayor in 2019. Now, the long-awaited Forward Looking Infrastructure Project (FLIP), which includes citywide road improvements, is about to launch. The project was delayed as the city worked through the process of obtaining additional funding through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The funding application is in the last stages of review.
“Any day now, I expect them to say we’re good to go,” Snider said. “The engineering company we work with, Kleinfelder, said this is the most complicated and intense project they’ve worked on. It touches every corner of the town and has different layers of funding, all with different rules.”
Although the delay was frustrating to city leaders and residents, it resulted in additional funding and the unexpected hiring of Doug Nusser, the former head engineer with Kleinfelder. Nusser retired from Kleinfelder but accepted the position of Special Project Coordinator for Port Clinton.
“It is unheard of to have the guy who designed the project take a job with the city so he could see it through,” Snider said.
Oak Harbor will also see tangible progress on long-planned projects.
“In 2024, you’ll see projects that have been years in the making, including progress on utilizing Oak Harbor’s riverfront and the completion of a new water tower in town,” Babcock said.
Babcock said the village is wrapping up a Comprehensive Community Plan which revealed a resident wish-list that includes the preservation of historic downtown buildings and an increase in recreational opportunities.
“We are also starting a study for what to do with our Wastewater Treatment Plant, which is near the end of its life. It is likely that we will begin seriously talking about replacing the plant,” Babcock said.
Port Clinton is collaborating with the Park District of Ottawa County on a parks improvement project. Snider said residents voiced a strong desire for a splashpad, pickleball court and dog park. The project may also include shoreline enhancements.
“Now that FLIP is about ready to get shovels in the ground, we’re ready to look at our parks,” Snider said.
Port Clinton and Oak Harbor have a strong collaborative relationship that inspired the creation of the Portage River Arts/Recreation Corridor which, with the support of State Rep. DJ Swearingen and State Sen. Theresa Gavarone, received its first round of funding in 2022.
“Port Clinton and Oak Harbor cofounded the Portage River Arts/Recreation Corridor to help coordinate investment for arts and recreation projects in the county,” Babcock said.
The Corridor previously received funding for riverfront development in Oak Harbor and The Arts Garage in Port Clinton. This year, efforts are focused on attracting funding for Genoa’s Historic Townhall and Civic Theatre. Corridor funding has been supported by the Ottawa County Parks District, Shores & Islands Ohio, Ottawa County Community Foundation and the Ohio Lake Erie Commission.
“The reason these projects can happen is that our communities have a shared vision of bustling small businesses, thriving downtowns and arts and recreation opportunities that enrich our residents’ lives,” Babcock said. “Since I’ve started as mayor, we’ve been able to recognize that our shared vision exists, and we’ve been able to get the technical knowledge we need to leverage that vision. That has been a big change that I think is very exciting for the whole county.”