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River status sparks some opposition

A couple whose property abuts the Mad River voiced their opposition to a bid to have 22 miles of the waterway designated a recreational river area by the state.

George and Joy McDaniel asked Bethel Twp. trustees at their meeting Tuesday night to not support the plan because they’re concerned it would increase property taxes, open up properties to state land grabs, increase river traffic and the potential of trespassers and crime, and require any public works projects to go through an approval process with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

However, Donald Wallace, a volunteer with the group Scenic Mad River Committee that’s pushed for the designation since 2004, said that property rights won’t be lost and the designation wouldn’t grant public access to private lands.

The McDaniels own a nearly 1-acre tract in the 5200 block of Old Lower Valley Pike, according to the Clark County Auditors office.

“(There’s) no benefit to us that we can see and, in fact may cost us more, or we may be told to do things that we don’t necessarily want to do. We just get by and live there and we see it as a threat,” George McDaniel said.

It’s been found that property values may increase a bit, Wallace said, adding there would also be revenues coming to the county that might otherwise not.

“As we’ve approached the time for designation, we’ve been quite concerned that we might not have had enough involvement from some of these residents and that’s why I contacted the McDaniels two or three days ago with a knock and spoke to them of the meeting that’s been called,” Wallace said.

A public input and question-and-answer session with ODNR representatives will be held from 7 to 8:30 p.m. today in Room 105A of the Shouvlin Center at Wittenberg University.

A second session will be held from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday in the same location.

The input sessions aren’t required by law, but are an attempt by the ODNR to keep alleged misinformation from spreading, as happened in 2010 and led to a withdrawn bid for a scenic river designation in Northern Ohio.

The Scenic Mad River Committee cares about the river, member Bob Jurick said last week.

“It will improve the respect and health and care of the river,” he said.

According to the McDaniels’ interpretation of the Ohio Revised Code, such a designation could also allow the ODNR director to take control up to 1,000 feet — or more in some instances — of land from the waterline. That would include their entire property, they said.

Their concern is if the designation is granted, ODNR could dictate what they can and cannot do on their land and potentially take control of their property and others nearby through eminent domain and through purchases.

A call on Wednesday to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office for clarification on what the scenic designation would or wouldn’t allow wasn’t returned by deadline.

But Wallace said it’s been made clear by the local group and the ODNR that such a designation doesn’t affect private property rights.

The McDaniels also told trustees they should be wary because the designation could affect future public works project, including road and bridge construction, if it were determined by ODNR’s judgement to impact the river.

Trustee David Phares said he heard from ODNR about similar issues, including one he recalled that may have been on the Little Miami River.

And how an local advisory council required by the law would be appointment was cause for concern, the McDaniels said. It would consist of volunteer representatives from local government, organizations and interests in the area’s vicinity, but are appointed by the director of ODNR.

“There may be some obscure economic benefit for the county at large in the tourism industry, but it’s already being used as a recreational river. We just don’t see the need to have this designation and to fall under state influence,” George McDaniel said.

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