Big Darby antagonists striving for balance - Environmentalists, developers discussing future of watershed

August 29, 2003

By Geoff Dutton

The Columbus Dispatch

Columbus, Ohio

To submit a Letter to the Editor:

After years of conflict, a group of environmentalists, developers and
regulators met last night for the first time to discuss the future of thousands of
acres of coveted land along Big Darby Creek.

The creek and its tributaries, which are designated as state and federal
scenic waterways, run through fast-growing western Franklin County.

To stop project-by-project battles over each new development, Columbus and
state EPA officials imposed temporary building bans and the state convened the
group to recommend a long-term plan for the watershed.

"This is an unprecedented kind of planning," said Tim Peterkoski, the
Environmental Protection Agency's central Ohio Scenic River manager. "It's a huge

Not only is the EPA seeking the consensus of developers and conservationists,
the process is an attempt to ease political strains among growth-hungry
officials in Columbus and neighboring townships who compete for development.

The advisory group met twice previously to establish a format, and last night
confronted the central question: How can the government balance development
with preserving an area rich in wildlife?

For this group of adversaries to find common ground is expected to be a
lengthy and tense endeavor. The members have been given 18 months to submit
recommendations to the director of the state EPA.

Until then, the EPA has halted permits for sewer lines in the most
environmentally sensitive areas of the watershed in the county, effectively blocking any
large housing projects or other high-density development.

A separate Columbus ban covers an even larger area.

Members of the group assembled by the EPA have vowed to be open-minded, but
acknowledge their trepidation.

Environmentalists fear the economic and political might of developers; the
developers worry about being far outnumbered on the panel.

"It'll be a challenge," said Malcolm Porter of the Building Industry
Association. "We'll remain optimistic until we see [reason to be] otherwise."

The fragile team took a severe shaking, even before members sat down to

The city of Columbus, which enacted a two-year building ban in November,
approved exceptions for three projects this summer, without the knowledge of Darby

Landowners, including a subsidiary of American Electric Power, received city
approval for two housing developments on 310 acres, as well as a gas station
and car wash.

Darby activists characterized the actions as a betrayal, and said city
officials have lost credibility just as negotiations are beginning.

"It undermines the process," said John Tetzloff of the Darby Creek
Association. "I just don't think they're committed to land-use planning.

City officials countered that the hearings were properly announced in legal
advertisements. The exceptions were granted for property that already had been
annexed into the city but not yet rezoned for development because of various

At last night's meeting, discussion remained subdued as two Ohio State
University professors described how to carve out adequate skirts of undisturbed
vegetation along stream banks.

The Big Darby Creek watershed comprises six counties and 555 square miles,
Peterkoski said. As home to more than 100 species of fish and 40 species of
mussels, it ranks among the most ecologically rich areas in the nation.

The Big Darby's proximity to a major urban area makes it particularly
exceptional - and vulnerable.

With more people moving into the watershed, Peterkoski said, the danger is
that "people will love the creek to death."


(Note from reporter Julie Kay Smithson: There is much that is nebulous in this article, such as who the
various entities were that were at the meeting. There is much that is contradictory
-- in one place it mentions that this is the "first time" they've met, and
then says that the same group "met twice previously" to "establish a format."
Mention of "Darby activists" confines itself to groups that are not only
self-proclaimed 'environmentalists' and organized non-governmental, federal EPA
grant-supported entities, but also seek to acquire -- by whatever means necessary --
all the land bordering the Big [and eventually Little] Darby. Not one word is
said about the fact that there are long-term and proven land and water
stewards -- farmers and private property owners -- already in place in many areas.
Those with the most to lose are not even dignified with mention of being 'minor
stakeholders.' In fact, the reporter never mentions anything about
agriculture or the rural areas through which the Big and Little Darby and their
tributaries flow. He would have the unsuspecting victim -- er, reader -- believe that
all the Big Darby's tributaries are "designated scenic waterways." Gang
Green's 'guiding hand' has stirred the ingredients for this 'story,' and story it


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