Senate bill would merge ODNR divisions

On Thursday, Senate Bill 293 was introduced in the Ohio Legislature, if passed the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Watercraft and Division of Parks would be merged into one ODNR division.

ODNR leadership has been making efforts to combine the two divisions for over a year. The combination is anticipated to only enhance services to residents and save money.

“A little over five and a half years ago, Governor (John) Kasich gave all of the directors a charge, to be as efficient as we can be and don’t duplicate services in any part of our organization,” said James Zehinger, Director of ODNR. “This bill (Senate Bill 293) makes a lot of sense. Every one of our state parks has either a large lake on it or some river or stream, that we have watercraft involved with.”

Zehinger said it really does not make a lot of sense to have two offices at a lot of the state parks.

“There are so many effencies we can gain on the administrative side and the law enforcement side,” Zehinger said. “Ohio taxpayers and outdoor enthusiasts will be better served by these changes resulting in savings, which will free-up funding which will be applied in other ways to directly enhance the public outdoor experience.”

Zehinger said the two divisions have begun sharing resources and officers.

Zehinger said he along with other ODNR officials looked into how other states have dealt with similar issues.

“In research, we found out that Ohio really has the only standalone division of watercraft in the country. Most divisions of watercraft are with parks or other divisions. We really think this makes a lot of since,” Zehinger said.

On Thursday Zehinger addressed parks and watercraft employees on proposed changes.

“They (employees) have been very corporative, through this transition. That’s difficult sometimes for government employees to accept change. These two divisions have come together and they are now more unified team that will better serve our customers,” Zehinger said.

Ohio Senator Troy Balderson, introduced Senate Bill 293 to the Ohio Senate.

“I’m fully committed to this piece of legislation, I think the governor’s office and ODNR are moving in the right direction. This is a big move in the right direction, for state government,” Balderson said.

In Scioto County ODNR Division of Parks operates at Shawnee State Park and golf course. The Shawnee Lodge would also be under the jurisdiction of Parks. There is also a Division of Watercraft office located at 3261 Kenyon Road in Franklin Furnace.

Wayne Allen can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 1933 or on Twitter @WayneallenPDT