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Report: State, Fed Rarely Block Development Plans

Sat January 15, 2005 - Midwest Edition
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COLUMBUS, OH (AP) State and federal agencies block few of the thousands of development plans they review for projects that could threaten endangered species, according to an analysis by The Columbus Dispatch.

The newspaper’s review of projects ranging from cell phone towers to shopping centers found that only three projects over the past two years were opposed or denied.

Officials said they approve projects after working with developers to alter plans or otherwise determining they don’t threaten endangered species.

“We try to work with the applicant to modify the application so that it’s approvable,” said Randy Bournique, manager of wetlands permits at the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

But environmentalists worry that government officials are ignoring the long-term consequences of policies that harm habitats.

“It’s a fiction that you can protect an animal without protecting its habitat,” said John Kostyack, chief counsel for the National Wildlife Federation.

Ohio has 175 endangered and threatened species, according to the state and federal governments.

In central Ohio, the list includes the peregrine falcon, the eastern massasauga rattlesnake and several rare species of mussels and fish in the Big Darby watershed. The state EPA has blocked urban development in a large part of western Franklin County where the Big Darby drains to give officials time to come up with way to allow development while protecting the creek.

The government typically gets involved in construction projects that affect streams and wetlands. Official reviews also analyze the effect on endangered species.

Angela Zimmerman, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s endangered-species coordinator for Ohio, said she could not recall her office opposing a request. The service reviews about 2,000 proposed projects each year.

U.S. Army Corps officials also could not remember denying permits in central and southeastern Ohio, where 1,599 projects have been approved since 2003.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has opposed two projects that involved dredging and selling gravel from riverbeds. The agency has been consulted on more than 500 projects since 2003.

The department said the mining of 13 spots in the Ohio River would harm two rare species of fish, a beetle and the threehorn wartyback mollusk. The request from Martin Marietta Materials is pending with the corps.

The department also opposed Gerken Materials’ 2003 request to renew its permit for dredging along the Maumee River because of threats to mollusks.

The Ohio EPA gave Gerken a permit to operate until Feb. 18, when a new state law banned in-stream mining in Ohio’s water. The agency also denied a U.S. Army Corps plan to reinforce a Cuyahoga River stream bank to protect a nearby road from erosion.

While permits carry conditions that include safeguards for wildlife and habitats, officials admit that little is known about the cumulative effect each approved development has on a surrounding habitat.

Kostyack said that kind of examination is required of federal agencies.

“What I’ve seen in many offices is they look at each project by itself and they won’t look at the bigger picture,” Kostyack said.

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