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,
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.