Sportsmen and conservationists in Ohio were successful in using the state budget process to highlight problems with Ohio’s wetland and stream protection regulations. Disgusted that ordinary taxpayers are footing the majority of the bill for a $1 million state program that enables developers, mining companies, and others to drain, pave, or otherwise destroy Ohio’s remaining wetlands and to reroute small streams, they demanded the legislature to force builders and others that profit from destroying natural resources and wildlife to compensate the public for its loss.
In May, the Ohio Environmental Council, along with the Ohio Smallmouth Alliance, and the League of Ohio Sportsmen held a press event that generated statewide media coverage by focusing on the meager 6% that developers’ fees currently cover for the wetlands program, leaving taxpayers to pay the remaining 94%.
According to the sportsmen and conservation groups, it costs the state approximately $7,000 to review and administer each permit. Current industry fees range from $15 to a maximum of $200. The fee was last revised in 1982 under Governor Jim Rhodes.
The groups proposed that applicants for permits to fill a wetland or stream protected by the Clean Water Act pay a $5,000 application fee, an additional $2,000 per wetland acre, and $2 per linear foot of stream impacted by the project. They estimate that this fee overhaul could generate $560,000, about half of the program’s projected cost for next year. In contrast, budget projections reveal that taxpayers are slated to pay $900,000, or 90% of what it will take to keep the program operating over the next state fiscal year, while developers, will pay only $34,000 in fees, or less than 3% of program costs.
Marshes, swamps, bogs, and other wetlands offer many benefits. Wetlands clean water by straining sediments and pollution; control flooding by absorbing and slowly releasing storm water; provide important fish and wildlife habitat; act as a nursery for rare and threatened species; and support hunting, fishing, and other recreational activities.
Ohio is one of only eight states that have lost an estimated 80% of their original wetlands; draining and converting them to farmland, filling them for housing developments and industrial facilities, and even using them as dumps.
State regulators however, continue to approve dozens of wetland destruction projects each year. Conservationists point to Ohio’s low wetland-impact fees as one glaring reason. “Industry is enjoying a bonanza at the expense of Ohio’s wetlands and wildlife,” said Mike Utt, president of the Ohio Smallmouth Alliance.
The important efforts of these sportsmen and conservationists have helped to raise awareness among Ohioans, laying the foundation for the removal of the wetland destruction subsidy in the future.