The U.S. EPA estimates that in the Midwest there are more than50-thousand brownfields – polluted sites where the company that did thepolluting has either gone bankrupt or has simply abandoned thelocation. Next week, Ohio voters are being asked to approve a ballotissue that would let the state borrow millions of dollars… forbrownfield clean-up projects and for preserving greenspace. The issuehas sparked something unusual – a split among major environmentalgroups. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Bill Cohen filed thisreport:
The U.S. EPA estimates that in the (Midwest/Great Lakes states)… there
are more than 50-thousand brownfields… polluted sites where the
company that did the polluting has either gone bankrupt or has simply
abandoned the location. Next week, Ohio voters are being asked to
approve a ballot issue that would let the state borrow millions of
dollars… for brownfield clean-up projects and for preserving
greenspace. The issue has sparked something unusual – a split among
major environmental groups. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Bill
Cohen filed this report.
With video of a babbling brook… a TV commercial is asking Ohioans to vote yes on this
ballot issue. If passed, the issue would give Ohio the green light to borrow 400 million
dollars and spend it two ways — first…. helping communities buy land for parks, nature
preserves, bikeways, and walking trails. And second, paying to clean-up the polluted
industrial sites called brownfields. State legislators are the ones who’ve put the plan onto
the ballot…..and it also has the backing of several activist groups – for example, the
National Wildlife Federation, the League of Ohio Sportsmen, and the Ohio
Environmental Council. Jack Shaner speaks for the council.
“If ever there was a state that needed an environmental cleanup program, it’s the state of Ohio. We rank near the bottom in public access to public lands. We’re third in the nation for toxic releases. Only a little more than half of our rivers and streams are fishable and swimable. You know, it’s 4 million dollars before the voters this fall, we probably need more like 4 billion dollars.”
Just about every Ohio environmental group likes half of the ballot issue, the greenspace
part. But, on the brownfields part, there’s disagreement. The Ohio Sierra Club is
refusing to endorse the ballot measure. The group is staying neutral because it worries
that the way future brownfields will be cleaned up….is the same way they’ve been
cleaned up in the past. Sierra Club leader Mark Conte says there are two drawbacks that
muddy the waters.
“A lot of time with brownfield projects in that program the public is not notified that the cleanup is going to take place or how that cleanup will take place. Nor is there a chance for the public to comment on how that cleanup takes place. In a lot of cases there are weekend clean up standards. For example, in some sites the redevelopment does not have to clean up the groundwater contamination that might be in the site.”
Another major environmental group has so many questions about the brownfields part of
this ballot issue, it is actually calling for a NO vote. Citizen Action often sees the Ohio
EPA as an ally for polluting industries….so the environmental activists don’t trust the
state EPA to do the clean-ups right. Sandy Buchanan heads the Ohio group:
“We are very concerned that the money that the tax payers are being asked to spend will be used to try to put a coat of whitewash over the Ohio EPA. An agency that is suffering from dry rot, an agency that has serious enforcement problems. Particularly in the brownfields cleanup area, which this money is supposedly going to go for.”
The Environmental Council agrees with Citizen Action that the Ohio EPA could do a
better job…….but that’s why the council’s Jack Shaner says voters should approve the
ballot issue, not reject it.
“The more you have idle, abandoned, old former industrial sites, contaminated sites dotting the inner city, the more and more it’s going to push sprawl into the countryside. Eat up that valuable farmland. So it makes sense to redevelop the inner city. Ohio’s current program is not a good one, is not effective. Even businesses don’t use it. We’ve got to roll up our sleeves. We’ve got to fix that program. But it’s going to take not only a fix, it’s going to take money.”
Unlike critics of the ballot issue…the environmental council and other backers have some
big names and the money to publicize their side of the story. In fact, two of Ohio’s most
popular politicians are leading the vote yes drive – Governor Bob Taft, a republican,
and former Senator John Glenn, a democrat. The issue also has the support of Ohio
manufacturers. Greg Vergameni helps lead their trade association. He says cleaning up
brownfields will open up cheaper inner city sites for industry.
“The upfront cost will be a lot less. Instead of going out buying land, building new manufacutiing plants. They can go into a spot that already has some structure there. And as long as it’s a clean site, I can see some economic growth there.”
While Ohio’s environmental movement is split over whether this ballot issue merits
support……it appears it will pass. Jack Shaner of the environmental council says it’s
about the best thing environmental activists can realistically expect from state
“If were are to wait for every jot and tittle to be squared away, and the perfect plan crafted, we’ll be into the 22nd century, we can’t afford to wait.”
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Bill Cohen in Columbus.