(Posted by Grant Maki, Of Counsel, Ohio Environmental Council)
Yesterday, OELC filed comments to Ohio EPA on a rather delicate situation in a very delicate area — Cash-strapped public school’s need for updates and expansion against destroying some of the few high quality wetlands Ohio has left.
Sheffield–Sheffield Lake City School District, in Lorain County plans to expand its high school. Unfortunately, the project would fill in 5.6 acres of rare, high-quality category 3 wetlands. On the positive side, the Schools proposed to place the remaining 39.4 acres of equally high-quality wetland on their property under a conservation easement that would preserve them in perpetuity.
The Schools were almost forced into this situation as previous poor planning left them with a parcel covered in wetlands and a pot of money that is specifically limited by a ballot initiative to be spent only on construction and renovation—not buying new land.
The Schools made a good faith effort to limit their impact to the wetland. Their original design would have filled over 12 acres of wetland—over twice what they are proposing to fill today. Still, the proposal has numerous inadequacies that we pointed out in our comments.
Probably the most important issue that we focused on is the Schools’ plan to run a wetlands ecology class in the property. If that class is structured correctly, the students could improve and maintain the wetland while learning about ecology by doing things like removing invasive species. But if these same activities are not done in the right way, they could actually harm the wetland. We urged the Schools to find a highly qualified wetlands scientist to design the curriculum and train school faculty on wetland stewardship.
The Schools’ application also mentioned plans to put one or more trails through the wetland. Trails can have significant impacts to sensitive species that may live in the wetland. We asked that all trails be routed around the edge of the wetland, rather than through the middle of it.
We hope that the Schools and Ohio EPA, who will ultimately approve or deny the permit application, will take note of our comments and address these problems.