Wednesday, October 25, 2000

$750K to be spent for Ohio Issue 1

By Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — Supporters of a proposed $400 million environmental program will spend up to $750,000 on commercials urging Ohioans to vote for the land-use measure, one of dozens on ballots nationwide.

        Slated to appear Friday, the Ohio television ads will try to drum up support for Issue 1. The statewide ballot question would sell bonds to set aside $200 million for conservation and farmland preservation and another $200 million to help clean up polluted urban industrial sites.

    A third of Ohio's farmland was lost between 1950 and 1997, compared with 20 percent nationwide, the Ohio Office of Farmland Preservation says.
    Hamilton County lost three-quarters of its farmland during the same period.
    Clermont County lost 63 percent, Warren County 49 percent and Butler County 47 percent.

        One commercial will describe Issue 1 as an opportunity to preserve some of Ohio's most beautiful natural areas, said Mark Weaver, an Issue 1 campaign organizer. A second ad will explain why it is important to clean up and revitalize old industrial sites.

        Both ads land Ohio in the middle of a thorny question officials across the country are struggling to answer: How to control the rapid growth of cities into rural areas?

        Caught between feuding environmentalists and land developers, many are asking voters for help.

        At least 32 sprawl-related questions are on ballots in 16 states outside Ohio. That's according to the Washington-based Sprawl Watch Clearinghouse, which tracks urban growth and land-use policies.

        The most sweeping proposal is Arizona's Proposition 202. It would require cities and counties of more than 2,500 residents to adopt 10-year growth limits and force developers to pay for roads, schools and other services to new subdivisions.

        Another ambitious ballot initiative, Colorado Amendment 24, would make counties and cities map future growth and submit development proposals to voters.

        Voters in Florida, Salt Lake City and Austin, Texas, will decide whether to provide money for public trans portation to ease traffic congestion. And in San Francisco, voters face two questions that would limit development of office buildings for new Internet companies.

        The number of urban-sprawl related initiatives reflects a growing concern among voters, according to Jonathan Weiss, head of George Washington University's Center on Sustainability and Regional Growth.

        “Years and years of suburban growth are finally taking their toll” Mr. Weiss said. “It's making citizens demand that action be taken.”

        Colorado and Arizona were among the five fastest-growing states this past dec ade. Colorado's population climbed 23 percent to 4.1 million, while Arizona's swelled more than 30 percent to 4.9 million people.

        The idea is not without its critics. Government watchdog group Ohio Citizen Action opposes Issue 1, saying the money could be used to bail out polluters who otherwise must pay to clean up their own messes.

        “Why give more money to a failed program?” said Jane Forrest Redfern, the group's environmental projects director.

        Mrs. Redfern and groups like the Ohio Sierra Club believe the state Environmental Protection Agency has failed to adequately clean up abandoned urban sites called brownfields. They also are critical of the Ohio EPA's Voluntary Action Program, in which developers agree to clean up brownfield sites after the government promises not to sue them.

        Mr. Weaver said lawmakers will decide how the money would be spent, assuming voters approve Issue 1. That means groups hoping to keep the money out of polluters' hands will have a chance to push for spending restrictions after Nov. 7.

        “There will be a forum on that,” Mr. Weaver said.

        The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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