An intent to designate Paint Creek, Upper Paint Creek, Rocky Fork Creek, Rattlesnake Creek and North Fork Paint Creek as part of the state’s scenic river system was issued on July 16 and 17, and a forum for public discussion will be held for questions on Wednesday, Aug. 11 at Rocky Fork State Park’s East End Overlook from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Bob Gable, the scenic river program manager for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) presented at a Highland County Board of Commissioners meeting last week where he Gable detailed important aspects of the program and what it would mean for the county as well as landowners and farmers that surround the proposed scenic waterways.
He said the program is dedicated to the, “Identification and protection of some of Ohio’s remaining highest quality waterways… These rivers that are designated are some of the highest-quality remaining in the state and it’s really an honor for the rivers in the local community to receive this designation.”
Gable said the program started in 1968 and has since only dedicated 15 waterways in Ohio as scenic rivers, not including the possibility of Rocky Fork Paint creeks.
He said the process to designate a scenic river starts when the Director of ODNR issues the intent to designate in the counties where the waterways flow, which for Rocky Fork and Paint Creek is Highland and Ross counties. He said following the intent to designate being posed, there is a 30-day public comment period where ODNR travels to meet people and field questions.
Gable said the final say on whether a river is designated as a scenic river is from the ODNR director. Following the official designation, a local scenic river advisory council is organized where no more than 10 representatives of the local community are brought together. He said those representatives will be selected from both Highland and Ross counties and would have good “cross-representation” from different interests.
Gable said the designation includes the waterways themselves, as well as additional land out 1,000 feet on either side of it that will be designated as a Wild, Scenic and Recreational River Area.
He also detailed what the scenic river designation doesn’t do. He said there is a paragraph that protects private property rights and that the designation doesn’t give the director of ODNR or any other governmental agency or local political subdivision the ability to restrict the owner’s use of the land. He also said it doesn’t give any entities the ability to enter onto someone’s private property or restrict the use of that land due to the designation. Gable also said nothing in the law would require people to change their farming or nutrient management practices.
He said the significance of the law is that no public or governmental agency can build or enlarge any highway structure or any modification of the water course. He also said no governmental agency can build any piece of public infrastructure within the 1,000-foot corridor on either side of it without that infrastructure first being approved by the ODNR director.
Todd Gamble, who opposes the designation and is a landowner and business owner in Highland County, read a statement at the meeting.
“I come here as a farm owner and landowner on Rocky Fork Paint Creek, an area that is being requested to be designated as a scenic river area,” he said: “I’m asking you to reject this proposal. My wife Tara and I live in Paint Township, and along with many other farmers and landowners affected, this designation will not be beneficial to our agricultural community … There are, however, many downfalls to this proposal for farmers and private landowners.
”First of all, any agricultural land within the designated area of scenic river has adverse implications of Farm Service Agency programs. Per the Farm Service Agency Handbook for Environmental Quality Program 1-EQ, ‘Requires any project on a designated scenic river to an additional assessment and consultation from ODNR prior to FSA approval.’
“Second, the designation has a 2,000-foot loop around the waterway that is also designated scenic. While ODNR has repeated over and over, ‘This is not going to affect landowners and farmers,’ the law is not that clear, and therefore, could be interpreted differently in the future…
“Thirdly, we have enough an abundance of wildlife, plants and trees that fill our farms and pastures. These are there because there is no better steward of the land than a farmer.
”Fourth, a majority of farmers and private landowners affected by this designation reject this proposal. This is for the reasons already mentioned and more … None of us need any more government involvement or regulation monitoring us and our farming practices than we already have … Farmers and landowners living on the creek are not in the tourism or entertainment business. We’re in the business of agriculture and we are respectfully asking that you stand with private landowners and farmers in this county and formally reject the proposal of a scenic river designation.”
Reach Jacob Clary at 937-402-2570.