In 2001 over 12,000 Central Ohio residents signed a petition saying they wanted a vote at the ballot box in the City of Columbus on a moratorium to stop new City sewer and water service into the Big Darby Watershed. In October of 2001 the Franklin County Board of Elections certified that enough of those signatures were valid City voters to meet the requirements of the City Charter. Columbus City Council then voted in October to put the issue on the May ballot, according to the dictates of the Charter. That same Charter requires the Clerk of Council to immediately send the petition to the Board of Elections.

After sitting on the petition for four months, in February the Clerk stated he would not send the petition to the Board of Elections because the circulators' signatures had not been notarized. The City Charter, unlike State law, requires such signatures to have an "affidavit" and the operative legal definition of affidavit in this case is that the signature be notarized. PEER, the organizers of the petition drive, went to the Ohio Supreme Court and they ruled in our favor that the Clerk's action was illegal and forced him to send the petition to the Board of Elections. The Board, comprised of four political appointees from the two Major Political Parties, rejected the petitions in March due to the notarization issue. They thus put a legal technicality above the will expressed by thousands of voters that this issue should be on the ballot. Subsequent legal appeals by PEER failed.

What's Happening Now

Now, PEER has prepared a new petition and is seeking volunteers to help us get the 6,000 signatures we now need to get the issue on the ballot once again. We are doing so to Save Big Darby Creek, for sure, but we are also doing it because the existing political system is so beholden to the Sprawl Lobby that they have demonstrated an inability to serve the will of the people on this issue. The Board of Elections in March, for example, could have decided that the notarization issue was rendered moot by the City Council's action to put the issue on the ballot in October, as we argued. Instead, they took the path supported by the Building Industry Association and the Columbus Dispatch. They ignored the thousands of voters who wanted a direct say in this issue and sided with the Sprawl Lobby.

Now the City is proposing a weak Hellbranch Zoning Overlay that will not achieve its stated objective of protecting the Darby watershed from further damage. It would allow over 50% of the affected area to be developed in high-density housing while study after study shows that levels above just 10% cause severe and permanent damage to sensitive waterways such as the State and National Scenic Big Darby Creek.

Indeed, the sprawl already allowed by the City has degraded the Hellbranch area. 2001 field studies by the Ohio EPA show local streams fail to meet their guidelines under the Clean Water Act. Since 1992 roughly 30% of the fish species in the area have been eliminated.

The Sprawl Lobby claims that protecting Hellbranch Run will make "home-building economically infeasible." This reminds me of the false claims of those who said a new sales tax was necessary to make an NHL franchise in Columbus economically feasible.

I have yet to hear one authoritative voice say the City's current Hellbranch Zoning Overlay will really protect the waterway. It's simply the best offer on the table right now and many are willing to take it, but the path of political compromise will destroy the Darby Watershed. Sensitive species killed by silt and polluted runoff won't know it could have been worse. The laws of nature don't bend for today's definition of economic feasibility nor do they live within the parameters of sprawl-crazed politics. We need a science-based plan whose goal is to repair the damage already done and ensure no further damage occurs in the future.

Many citizens of Columbus recognize that sprawl is degrading the Darby Watershed and they are sick and tired of the traffic snarls, overstretched safety forces and economic drain such poorly planned development causes. PEER is circulating a petition to "Stop the Sprawl" in the Darby Watershed. Our plan now calls for a citywide vote on a two-year moratorium prohibiting new sewer and water service by the City into the Darby Watershed.

Central Ohio Sierra Club members should fight the Sprawl Lobby's efforts to sacrifice the unique qualities of the Darby on the altars of "economic feasibility" and political compromise. We believe every voter in the City of Columbus should have a say in whether such sacrifice is the right decision. When the roll is called for that vote, I will stand with those who say the Darby deserves better.

We need your help now to get petition signatures and ensure we have a truly democratic vote to decide the future of the Darby Creeks.

Paul Dumouchelle, President, Progress with Economic and Environmental Responsibility, Inc.,, 614-766-4511.

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