Wednesday, January 26, 2000

Compact could have killed mine

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Boone County can't seem to stop an underground limestone mine from opening for business. The county looks powerless to control its destiny and maintain the nature of the community.

        This situation offers a valuable lesson for other rapidly growing areas transforming themselves from farmland to suburbia.

        The lesson is this: Communities on both sides of the river can join forces to control their quality of life.

        Regionalism — intense and thorough cooperation between states and counties — is the answer. The solution is specifically called an interstate compact. And a fine working example is as close to home as the commission that cleaned up the Ohio River.

        Boone County residents and officials tried to regulate what kind of business comes into their area. Together they fought for years to keep Boone free of underground mines. But they lost the battle in court in 1997. Last week, proposals for two mining operations placed before the county made the arrival of a mine seem inevitable.

        Back in 1997, a visiting circuit court judge ruled that Boone County can't prohibit a legitimate business from operating. People might not like mines. They may pollute the air, the land and the water. But, the judge ruled, mines are a legitimate business. They can't be zoned out of existence. In order to control or restrict businesses, the county must provide zoning rules and regulations, as well as a zone on the map where mining is permitted.

        Experts I spoke with said Boone County could have avoided these problems with an interstate compact governing regional planning and economic development. If the compact had been in effect four years ago, and had guidelines dealing with mines, the compact's authority would take precedence over county and state jurisdictions.

        An interstate compact could have helped Boone County avoid having a mine.

Regional issues
        The proposed mine would sit on the western edge of Boone County, near where the Interstate 275 bridge crosses the Ohio. Following a relatively untouched bend in the river, the Kentucky shoreline at this point mixes marshy inlets with a green carpet of flat farmland and thick stands of trees marching toward hilly bluffs.

        Michael Romanos, University of Cincinnati professor of planning, noted that the blasting and transportation of the limestone could pollute water supplies above and below ground. The mine, he said, is not just a Boone County issue. “Pollution does not follow any boundaries.”

        Controlling pollution, he said, requires a regional approach.

        Professor Romanos referred me to another expert in regionalism, Robert Manley. The Cincinnati lawyer has long been an advocate of regional solutions to area problems. He suggested the idea of an interstate compact to me.

        “This device is one of the wise tools given to us by the founding fathers. They allowed for such compacts in the U.S. Constitution.”

        Interstate compacts allow counties and states to join forces for the common good of a region. County governments and state legislatures set up the compact and send it to Washington for congressional approval.

        “They're not as difficult to pull off as they sound,” the lawyer said. “And they do work.”

Local precedent
        Robert Manley cited as an example the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO).

        Instituted more than a half-century ago in Cincinnati by a forward-thinking Chamber of Commerce, ORSANCO was ratified June 30, 1948, at ceremonies in the Netherland Hotel's Hall of Mirrors. The independent agency represents the joint efforts of eight states and the Federal government to clean up the Ohio River.

        Long before the Environmental Protection Agency was even a glimmer in Uncle Sam's bureaucratic eye, ORSANCO was at work. It used its monitoring and enforcement powers to transform the Ohio from an open sewer into a living river again.

        ORSANCO's success could be a model for how to manage our growth as a region. The catch is, it's a model that takes regional cooperation and common goals to succeed. Mining that vein has never been easy here.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.


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