Chairman Widener, Vice Chair Jones, Ranking Member Sawyer and members of the Committee: I am Josh Knights, executive director of The Nature Conservancy in Ohio. Thank you for the opportunity to present testimony today as an Interested Party on H.B. 482.
The Nature Conservancy is a non-profit, non-partisan, science-based organization that seeks to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. We have operated in Ohio since 1959 and have helped conserve nearly 60,000 acres statewide for the benefit of all Ohioans. We work collaboratively with businesses, farmers, sports groups, government and local communities to develop pragmatic, market-based solutions to conservation challenges. More than 26,000 Ohioans are Nature Conservancy members.
I am here today to ask the Committee to increase funding for the Clean Ohio Fund in the capital bill. The Clean Ohio Fund is a remarkably successful program that uses state dollars to leverage local funds to (1) revitalize blighted areas; (2) set aside some of the best remaining open space for the public; (3) preserve family farms; and (4) connect local communities to the outdoors through trails.
The Clean Ohio Fund is highly popular with the voters of Ohio. A continuation of the program passed in 2008 in all 88 counties with 70% support statewide. Polling last year revealed that a clear and bipartisan majority of the public continues to support funding the program despite the economic recession.
Under the 2008 ballot measure, $100 million in bonding authorization remains for projects related to open space, farmland preservation and trails. H.B. 482 includes only $6 million in funding for trails.
The Nature Conservancy recognizes our state’s fiscal challenges and the need to manage state debt appropriately. We also recognize that all agencies and programs need to contribute to that effort. That said, no single program should be singled out for disproportionate reductions to achieve those financial goals, especially one that is as popular with the public and that enhances the quality of life for local communities as much as the Clean Ohio Fund.
I would like to provide you with a brief example of how the Clean Ohio Fund has benefited a local community – Columbiana County.
In 2009, The Nature Conservancy was involved in a collaborative project with the Columbiana County Park District to acquire a 460-acre tract from a private landowner. We obtained an option to acquire the property for $874,000 and assigned it to the Park District. Additionally, we contributed approximately $500,000 in private funds for the property acquisition and expenses. The Park District then obtained an open space grant from the Clean Ohio Fund to cover the remainder of the acquisition. The Park District now manages the property as a park and has given a conservation easement to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources over the portions of the property adjacent to Beaver Creek State Park.
This example demonstrates multiple benefits of the Clean Ohio Fund. It: (1) protects the state’s natural resources – in this case, Little Beaver Creek; (2) leverages non-state funds through a competitive process to get the best outcome for the taxpayers; (3) encourages public-private partnerships; and (4) enhances the quality of life for the local community.
Additionally, as Ohio invests in shale oil and gas exploration for economic development and job creation in places like Columbiana County, we can expect impacts to our natural resources, notably freshwater, as well as to commercially valuable species like fish and game despite regulatory oversight. Investment in the Clean Ohio Fund is smart way to counter those impacts.
Since its inception, the Clean Ohio Fund has preserved over 26,000 acres of natural areas, protected nearly 40,000 acres of family farms, and created over 216 miles of recreational, community-based trails. Additionally, brownfield projects under the Clean Ohio Fund have resulted in a total economic impact for our state of approximately $2.6 billion to date. The result has been greater protection for Lake Erie and local waterways, a stronger agricultural base of working family farms, affordable recreational opportunities for local communities and the revitalization of blighted areas. These things help improve the quality of life for all Ohioans and make our state more attractive for new businesses, out-of-state tourists and residents.
For these reasons, The Nature Conservancy urges the Committee to take advantage of the $100 million in voter-approved bonding available to fund the Clean Ohio Fund in H.B. 482.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify on H.B. 482. I am happy to answer any questions.
The Nature Conservancy in Ohio
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.
The Nature Conservancy in Ohio