These are excerpts from a speech delivered at a Columbus Metropolitan Club Luncheon Debate on Wednesday, March 29, 2000. Presenting the Refuge Opposition perspective was Madison County Commissioner David Dhume.

Hello, my name is Paul Dumouchelle. I am Secretary of Darby Creek Association, a local volunteer group of 150 citizens living throughout Central Ohio. Our mission is to preserve, protect and restore the entire Darby Creek Ecosystem. Darby Creek Association was founded in 1972.

While I am here today to talk about the proposed Little Darby National Wildlife Refuge I want to emphasize that Darby Creek Association works on issues throughout the entire watershed. We work constantly to thwart the urban sprawl that threatens to destroy the watershed in Western Franklin County - and we work closely with friends such as Columbus City Councilman Richard Sensenbrenner to maintain the Environmental Conservation District just west of Hilliard. We also conduct educational programs that build public awareness and understanding of the unique natural resources that are these State and National Scenic Rivers. The point here is that we do not exist solely to promote the Refuge.

Now, to focus on the Little Darby National Wildlife Refuge. Darby Creek Association made its first statement of official support for the Refuge in April, 1998. We view it as, quite simply, the largest ecological restoration project the region will ever see and therefore entirely consistent with our mission. We have worked hard in support of the Refuge for over two years.

All of us are active citizens in our communities and we like to think we can figure out what’s best for us, our families and our neighbors by looking at things rationally. The Refuge Opposition tries to play to this common sentiment by throwing up all kinds of alleged facts and figures that are impressive in their quantity. What is less impressive is the quality of the opposition’s arguments. I submit that every argument they make is either unfounded, unbalanced or, if taken seriously, inconsistent with another element of their position.

The opposition likes to say that “local” control can prevent the kind of development commonly called sprawl. Darby Creek Association and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) consider the impact of sprawl as the primary threat to the long-term health of the Darby Creeks. But the creeks cannot be protected from sprawl through local controls alone. As an example, in November 1999, the Madison County town of West Jefferson annexed over 450 acres of farmland that is right next to the area the USFWS wants to protect. This farmland is now zoned for light industry. This annexation took place over the opposition of the Madison County Commissioners. Commissioner David Dhume voted with his colleagues to fight this development but the laws of the State of Ohio do not give counties the authority to control such sprawl and a court overturned their vote. So the Madison County Commissioners saw that their power was insufficient to prevent sprawl right next to the area in question - and yet they still claim local controls are sufficient? Go figure.

Another unfounded argument is that there is unanimous opposition to the Refuge among the residents in the affected area. Here, for example, is a letter to the editor of a Columbus paper dated March 16, 2000, which states - “The only grassroots efforts you see in this struggle are coming from the farmers, who do not want or need the refuge. Proponents of the refuge are governmental types and people being paid to lobby by large and powerful organizations.” -- This is simply not true. Darby Creek Association - which I must emphasize is a small, local, 100% volunteer grassroots group -- has two trustees who live in the Refuge area and they have both worked long and hard to support the Refuge. The owner of a grain elevator in Madison County has also publicly supported the Refuge. While three people may not seem like a large number, they are significant because these people are stating their support in the face of very loud and angry local opposition. Believe me, speaking in favor of the Refuge in Madison and Union counties isn’t like going to a Sunday picnic - when I’ve done it opponents have yelled at me, asked me to “step outside” and threatened me with legal action. Signs alongside the road in Madison County even portray the USFWS agents as evil Devils. In the face of this rather intimidating climate, the fact that anyone from these areas speaks in support of the Refuge is noteworthy and claims that opposition is unanimous are false.

They speak of the loss of tax income from federal lands - but they don’t balance this with the fact that the federal government does pay compensation to local governments to offset the losses. Such offset payments were at one time estimated by the Madison County Auditor to provide a possible net gain to Madison County.

Another example of unbalanced arguments is the opponents’ seemingly long list of governmental bodies and organizations that have formally stated opposition to the Refuge. They don’t balance this list with the government bodies and organizations that have formally stated support for the Refuge. Beyond all the major environmental groups, we also count hunting and fishing groups like Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited and the Ohio Smallmouth Alliance among the Refuge supporters. The Columbus Dispatch has also come out in favor of the Refuge. We have support from local elected officials as evidenced by unanimous resolutions of support for the Refuge from the City Councils of Columbus, Dublin, Gahanna, and more. Most of all, though, I want to thank US Senator Mike DeWine for his constant, consistent support of the Refuge. Above all, he is the reason we have progressed this far.

The opponents claim their input was not considered in the plan but they won’t balance this with talk about the Farmland Preservation Area now part of the plan that came about exactly because of their input.

The opposition speaks of the farmland the area will lose with the Refuge but they don’t balance this with the permanent protection the Farmland Preservation Area will provide.

This list of unbalanced arguments goes on and on. An example of an inconsistent argument is the oft-heard concern that the USFWS will take land by eminent domain. This was the basis for much of the early opposition and many opponents still base their position on the fear that the government could take their land by eminent domain. Yet Attorney Chris Walker, doing work for Citizens Against the Refuge Proposal (CARP) as his client, wrote the following in a recent strategy document - “the federal government has assured that eminent domain will not be used to acquire properties for the proposed refuge.” If the opponents’ own strategy documents concede that eminent domain is not a threat - why do we keep hearing about it?

Another example of an inconsistent argument is that the Refuge is a bad thing because it will actually encourage sprawl in the area. How will the Refuge encourage sprawl? Well, the answer is that it will be an extremely attractive neighbor for people seeking green space near their home. If the Refuge is such a draw, won’t that increase the value of the land nearby and increase the tax base? If so, then the argument about lost tax revenues falls apart. Which is it? The opposition can’t have their cake and eat it too. Check the internal consistency of their arguments.

Ohio currently ranks 47th among the 50 states in public lands per capita. Ohio sends a lot of money to the Federal Government in Washington and there’s no way we’re getting anything close to our fair share of the Interior Department’s budget. Ohio deserves more of its fair share of our tax dollars from the Federal Government and the Little Darby National Wildlife Refuge is our best chance to get it. This is part of the reason why US Senator Mike DeWine strongly supports the Refuge.

But it’s not just tax dollars I want to talk about. Most of our pocketbooks are filled with dollars generated by the enterprise of private companies here in Central Ohio. And what is the single toughest thing to do right now? Get quality workers. Am I right? And what is it that will attract workers to Columbus? A job? Jobs are plentiful right now. We need to offer a superior quality of life. A wildlife refuge just minutes from the heart of the city offers an improved quality of life and a new element to our image. I submit your ability to hire talent will be enhanced because some recruits will take another look at Columbus when it has a major Wildlife Refuge so close by.

Finally, let me talk for the briefest moment about my own heart. I work for the Darby Creeks because it helps me approach the ideal of who I want to be. I want to be a selfless advocate for the creeks. I want to speak out so future generations of Ohioans can have a chance to experience the beauty and wonder that I have witnessed in those waters. And I believe a similar sentiment is in every single heart here today. It may find expression in different ways on different topics but you all have hopes and dreams that you will be something better, something finer, in the future. This is part of what makes us human.

So in the end, I don’t ask that you listen to me. I ask you to listen to your own heart.

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