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Chamber, twp. pull back support for river status

Supporters say misinformation being spread.

The Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce board and township trustees have rescinded support of a bid to designate the Mad River as a state recreation river after opposition from some riverfront residents and developers.

But proponents of the designation say the opposition is spreading misinformation.

Initially, the chamber financially and legislatively supported a study conducted by a Wittenberg University professor to determine if the Mad River’s 22-miles that flow through Clark County are eligible for the designation.

It has since rescinded its legislative support, citing potential negative effects on private property owners and future development along the river, chamber President and CEO Mike McDorman said.

“From a recreational standpoint, we believed at the time that it could be a real positive for the Mad River, however, there was further review done by the board and that stance changed due to the potential impact,” he said.

“What the chamber board is saying is not that they oppose the river as a recreational corridor, because it’s a wonderful recreational corridor, (but that) they oppose any additional designation that might mean the potential of a negative impact to property owners as well as development opportunities that could happen in the future,” McDorman said.

German Twp. trustees have also pulled back their initial support.

But Bob Jurick, a member of the Scenic Mad River Committee that for nearly a decade has aimed for a state designation for the Mad River, said misinformation is being spread about the designation at various township meetings.

Opponents have repeatedly said they believe a state law could restrict development within 1,000 feet from the water’s edge, affecting them and their property rights. That’s despite multiple attempts by supporters and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to explain that the state code only affects government-funded projects like roads and bridges.

There’s also been inaccurate discussion of a lawsuit involving the Lake Erie shore that opponents say is related to a proposed designation of the Vermilion River, Jurick said. ODNR ceased its pursuit of the designation there in 2010 following public and governmental outcry.

“At township trustee meetings, our opposition has tried to link the ODNR Scenic Program with (a) Lake Erie lawsuit on public access to the high water mark versus average water mark,” Jurick said.

“ODNR was sued by the landowners along the shore and the landowners won. There is no connection between that situation and the Ohio Scenic River program,” Jurick said. “In the 20 years that Bob Gable has been Ohio Scenic River coordinator, there have been no lawsuits — probably because ‘scenic’ status does not affect private property rights.”

Riverfront property owner and resident Joy McDaniel — who’s gathered more than 100 signatures from other riverfront property owners — has repeatedly questioned the need to designate a current recreational waterway because it’s already used for recreation.

And she fears that it would raise property taxes, and increase river traffic and potential trespassers on the land owned by her and her husband, George.

“Shouldn’t we property owners be the first people they would have asked?” she said. “Just look at what happened in Vermilion.”

The Clark County situation is similar to what happened there.

Various newspapers from the area reported local governments pulled support of the designation when riverfront property owners said no.

And an online posting by the Ohio Lakefront Group, a non-profit group of Lake Erie property owners, cited a business owner on the river who said ODNR attempted the designation without first consulting property owners.

McDaniel said the supporters pushing for the designation locally aren’t property owners or residents along the river and haven’t regarded the will of those who own or live there.

Mad River Twp. Trustee Joe Catanzaro said his township has heard from both sides. While he wants more information, he said he feels for the property owners and was elected to represent them. He also has concerns about a possible loss of township control.

“It’s easy for other people to tell you what benefits you,” Catanzaro said. “But when you have a commotion as you drink tea on your back porch on the river (from boaters),” you might feel otherwise.

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