COLUMBUS — In an effort to continue to streamline state government, a bill has been introduced in the Ohio Senate that would merge two divisions within the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Senate Bill 293 calls for the Division of Watercraft to be merged into the department’s state parks division, a move that ODNR director Jim Zehringer says makes a lot of sense.
“Every one of our state parks in the state of Ohio either has a large lake on it or a river or stream where there is watercraft involved,” he said. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense to have two different offices at a lot of our parks, and there are so many efficiencies we can gain on the administration side and the law enforcement side.”
Under the current system, according to the ODNR, officers who have been assigned to each of the two offices have been confined to a very specific jurisdiction of enforcement, which could lead to response and safety concerns for both those officers and the public. Proponents of the bill maintain that merging these two divisions will create one unified corps of officers, eliminating patrol boundaries and improving response times.
“Having officers available and prepared to patrol lakes and campsites as needed, with the flexibility to respond to incidents as they arise, will provide safer parks and waterways for all Ohioans,” former watercraft division chief Rodger Norcross said.
Although the legislation has yet to be passed, ODNR has already worked to bring offices and officers from each division together, saving the department a variety of expenses such as utilities and leases.
“This will codify what we’ve already started,” Norcross said.
State Sen. Troy Balderson, R-Zanesville, introduced the bill and maintains his commitment to seeing it passed.
“I think the governor’s office and ODNR are moving in the right direction,” he said. “When we go out and speak about this bill and what exactly it does, people have a much better understanding of it. I am fortunate to serve in a district that has several state parks and lakes, and I’m excited to get this out to my district. This is a big move in the right direction for state government.”
Reach Craig Kelly at 567-242-0390 or on Twitter @Lima_CKelly.