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Central Ohio Group Issues

This article was submitted for the January / February 2003  issue of the newsletter.

The Darby Moratorium – A Personal Journey

By , President, Progress with Economic and Environmental Responsibility (PEER)

On November 18, 2002, Columbus City Council passed an Ordinance by Initiative Petition that prohibits the City from extending new sewer and water service into the Big Darby Creek Watershed in Western Franklin County (see details at www.peerohio.org). This action was a decisive turn in a five-year battle to alter the balance of power in land-use decisions affecting the Darby Creek Watershed. Now, with the moratorium in place, groups focused on the health of the Darby Creek ecosystem can stand toe-to-toe with the development interests that have dominated development decisions up to now.

The Central Ohio Sierra Club has been a key ally throughout this effort. The local group’s activism and support for projects such as this are the reason I am a Sierra Club member.

My focus on the Darby Watershed within Franklin County began with an article I wrote for the Darby Creek Association newsletter of 2/26/97 entitled “A Line in the Muck.” I wrote that we needed to “draw a line in the muck of the Hellbranch basin and say ‘You will not pave beyond here.’” The effects of pavement (driven by development and urban sprawl) are the primary threat to the Darby ecosystem, and Hellbranch Run is the Darby tributary that drains Western Franklin County.

After years of fighting annexation and zoning battles within the confines of the existing political structure I decided that lobbying elected officials was not getting the job done. In 1998 and 1999 I invested my activism efforts into fighting for the ill-fated Little Darby National Wildlife Refuge that Congresswoman Deborah Pryce decided to kill. I returned to the land-use battles of Franklin County in 2000.

By the end of that 2000 I decided that the key to land-use decisions in Franklin County was the City of Columbus. And City of Columbus land-use power and policy was driven by its control of the centralized sewer and water utility. That utility was subject to Columbus ordinances - which could in turn be controlled through a vote of the people in a ballot initiative. Thus began a two-year battle to control utility policy with a ballot initiative.

At the time I was involved with PEER as part of the fight to derail the Graceland option for a Morse-Bethel Connector. PEER is a political action committee and as such is perfectly positioned to lead a ballot initiative effort. In early 2001 PEER authorized the petitioning campaign to get a utility expansion moratorium in the Darby Watershed. During the spring and summer we gathered over 12,000 signatures to get on the May 2002 ballot. Leading the petitioning campaign, I personally gathered over 2,000 of those signatures. It was very, very difficult.

The City undid all our hard work by finding a technical flaw in our petitions and kept the moratorium off the ballot.

Though stung by this development, we reorganized the petition and the signature campaign and got the 6,000 signatures we needed this time to get on the ballot for the May 2003 ballot. Leading the petitioning campaign, I personally gathered nearly 2,000 of those signatures. It was very, very difficult.

Though Columbus City Council passed our ordinance and avoided the need for a vote (something we consider a victory - we got we wanted - the moratorium enacted into law) they did so under protest. This is not their policy, it is ours.

The reason I pursued this effort is rooted in the experiences of my childhood years. I grew up alongside the Detroit River in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s when it was choking on phosphates and the fish were inedible due to mercury poisoning. Yet even then, the water contained a spiritual essence that has guided me. In solitary moments of connection with the waters I found an extraordinarily clear definition of myself and my relationship to others.

I have dedicated much of my life to ensure that others have the opportunity to experience the spiritual message contained in our streams, rivers and lakes. Streams that run free and pure are better able to pass on that message. The Darby is one such stream. We must protect it at all cost.

with the moratorium in place, groups focused on the health of the Darby Creek ecosystem can stand toe-to-toe with the development interests that have dominated development decisions up to now.
The City undid all our hard work by finding a technical flaw in our petitions and kept the moratorium off the ballot.

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