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Great Lakes Article:

Water should figure in plans, report says
Counties are urged to consider effect of development
By Bob Downing
Beacon Journal
01/26/04

Ohio communities need to look at development plans based on watershed rather than political boundaries.

That's the finding of the state's new Balanced Growth Initiative created by the Ohio Lake Erie Commission.

This report, which will be the subject of three public hearings in the next two weeks, affects all or parts of 35 Ohio counties that drain into Lake Erie. These counties include Summit, Portage and Medina.

Experts say how the land in northern Ohio is used and developed has a major impact on Lake Erie and its health.

In 2001, the Ohio Lake Erie Commission -- made up of directors of five state agencies -- appointed a 35-member task force to devise a plan to foster development that won't harm the environment in the Lake Erie basin. Both developers and environmentalists were members of the task force.

The draft report will go to the Lake Erie Commission for final approval in the spring.

Recommendations of the report include:

Establishing voluntary watershed partnerships involving governments, planning organizations and other groups. Incentives such as state grants and loans would be provided to participating communities.

Identifying top-priority areas to be developed and areas, such as wetlands and stream headwaters, to be preserved.

Offering model zoning and building laws that promote development practices minimizing impacts on water quality.

Edith Chase of Franklin Township in Portage County spent two years working on the task force. She said the initiative is important because it is a first attempt to connect land use in northern Ohio with Lake Erie water quality.

But the plan may be overly optimistic, in part because it is based on state incentives and nothing that is binding, she said.

The program is certainly not anti-development, Chase said. Instead, it calls for looking more closely at development, its impact on water quality and its location in the watershed.

The task force tried to ``come up with a means to help locals make good decisions to help Lake Erie and streams,'' she said.

But the initiative was handicapped, she said, because it couldn't spend money, create new laws or threaten home rule of local communities.

``We were severely restricted by those parameters... but I'm hopeful that the results will benefit Lake Erie,'' Chase said. ``It's a new direction. It won't solve every problem. But it may help make Ohioans aware that land-use decisions do affect Lake Erie. And that's important and I'm encouraged.''

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