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The Great Buckeye Clean Up

How Issue 2 will affect land and voters

By Margo Pierce · September 25th, 2008 · News
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When there’s no organized opposition to a constitutional amendment being placed on the statewide ballot — as is the case with Issue 2, which would continue the Clean Ohio program — the Ohio Ballot Board comes up with the reason to vote no. That’s the law. “If the group of members of the general assembly or other group of persons … fail to prepare and file their arguments in support of or in opposition to the proposed amendment … the secretary of state shall notify the Ohio Ballot Board that those arguments have not been so prepared and filed,” says the Ohio Revised Code. “The board then shall prepare the missing arguments or designate a group of persons to prepare those arguments.”

The best the board could come up with this time is this: “Issue 2 would authorize the government to spend more in bond money: The economy is in bad condition. When times are hard, this is when we must tighten our belts and spend only what is necessary and only what we can cover with incoming revenues. Issue 2 authorizes the government to take out more debts to pay for environmental revitalization and conservation. While this may be worthwhile, the state of Ohio should not be going into further debt.” While the bond issue would create $400 million in debt, as the board statement says, that’s not much of a counter argument, according to Karl R. Gebhardt, campaign co-manager for Clean Ohio. “We are within the bonding capacity for Ohio, and the legislature does have the ultimate control over how much money is disbursed,” Gebhardt says. “The legislature does not have to issue that money. They can issue less if the state gets in a situation where it’s just dire straights.”

More important is the proven impact this program has had during its first eight years, he says. “We have a proven track record … that the $400 million investment through Clean Ohio has generated $2.6 billion in private investment,” Gebhardt says.

“Nearly 14,000 permanent jobs have been created, in addition to the construction jobs. In every county except two there have been projects that have come about as a result of Clean Ohio. In a number cases there have been multiple projects.

The money is being distributed all around Ohio, so we’re helping all communities.” In the case of urban communities, brownfield clean-up is done after an area is assessed and identified as contaminated. The application for funds includes a mandatory local funding match for the projects. The Revitalization Fund ($175 million) sets aside $25 million specifically for conducting these assessments.

“It does go in and help address some of those environmental justice/social justice issues where communities feel that they’ve become the only place where you can build a factory or manufacturing facility,” Gebhardt says. “(Clean Ohio) has come in and cleaned up some of those sites and the community and improved the health and safety of those areas.”

While contaminated land isn’t limited to urban communities, rural areas are more likely to take advantage of the Agricultural Easement Purchase Program ($25 million).

“As a landowner, you have a bundle of rights for that property,” Gebhardt says. “You have the right to drill for oil, mine for coal, cut timber, build on it. Each of those rights has a value. (You) can sell (your) right to develop that land. In exchange there is an easement, which serves as a deed restriction, that prevents that land form being developed in perpetuity.”

The amount paid to a farmer is “usually” the difference between the appraised market value of that land for development and the value of that land for agricultural use, there are other ways to determine the value to be paid for that easement.

Legally it’s possible to have the easement removed or “extinguished,” but there’s no precedent for the process because nobody in the U.S. has tried to do that yet, according to Gebhardt. In theory, the person wanting to lift the restriction would have to reimburse the state of Ohio to make that happen.

Acknowledging that farms can contribute harmful contaminants to the environment through the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers or poor erosion controls, Gebhardt says the benefit of retaining undeveloped land shouldn’t be dismissed.

“Society has said in a lot of cases, ‘We’d rather have that farm than a housing development or another Wal-Mart or something along that line.’ I think for the most part people like having the farms around,” he says. “The farms that we’re primarily involved with in this program are family farms, very properly managed. In Ohio, if you do put an agricultural easement on the farm, there has to be a farm management plan that does talk about how that land is being farmed.”

The Green Space Conservation Program ($150 million) and the Trails Fund ($25 million) round out the full $400 million that Issue 2 would raise if approved by voters.

To date, 26,000 acres of natural areas, 20,000 acres of prime farmland and 216 miles of recreational trails have been protected, according to the Continue Clean Ohio Web site (www.cleanohio.org).

Hamilton County has received $31.5 million, with only Cuyahoga and Franklin counties receiving more money.

Learn more about CLEAN OHIO at ohiodnr.com/default/ tabid/10771/Default.aspx. Look for additional CityBeat coverage of candidates and ballot issues in every issue through Election Day, Nov. 4.


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