(Posted by Grant Maki, Of Counsel for the Ohio Environmental Council)
John and Marilyn Saveson live on their family farm and want to pass it on to their children, as Savesons have done for generations. Savesons have lived on that land since John Saveson’s great-grandfather acquired it in a state of wilderness over a century ago.
Today, John and Marilyn feel a strong connection to this piece of land that is so tied up in their family history. They also have a strong conservation ethic—just one of the old-fashioned farming values that have been passed down through generations of Savesons.
So they called the Natural Resources Conservation Service and asked about enrolling their land in the Wetlands Reserve Program (“WRP”). This program is part of the U.S. Farm Bill, and it provides financial and technical assistance to help farmers install wetlands on part of their property and dedicate it to conservation. The Savesons had put other land into the WRP once before, so they felt confident that they were doing the right thing for future generations. They set aside most of their land for wetland conservation, and plotted out a small area on the remaining land for their children to build homes.
The Savesons excitedly signed the papers in 2010 and started working on constructing the wetland.
But they were in for a rude surprise. In 2011 the Department of Taxation changed course on a decades old practice. For the past 30 years, lands enrolled in WRP have qualified for a lower tax status known as the “Current Agricultural Use Valuation” (“CAUV”). CAUV applies to all agricultural lands and all lands enrolled in a qualifying conservation program under the federal government.
In October 2011, however, the Department of Taxation decided that WRP lands no longer qualified. Without passing any legislation or even providing any public notice, the Department sent out a memo to local auditors that WRP lands should be taxed more heavily. Even though the Savesons had already put their land into WRP a year before the Department of Taxation changed its mind, they were given a tax bill of over $50,000.
There are a lot of things that aren’t right about this. The Department of Taxation is throwing the small family farmer, Ohio’s wetlands, and the Ohio Constitution’s prohibition on retroactive laws under the bus- All, in one move. We at the OELC are thrilled to have the Savesons as clients. That’s why we appealed this case at the Board of Revisions in August, and we’re ready to take it all the way to the Supreme Court if we have to.
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(Posted by Grant Maki, Law Fellow at the Ohio Environmental Council)
Today, Ohio Environmental Council (OEC) and its allies submitted comments to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency regarding their proposed General Permit to authorize Oil and Gas to impact wetlands and streams.
OEPA is working to establish a General Permit that lays the conditions under which an oil and natural gas drilling companies may impact streams and wetlands. If an applicant is not able to meet the terms of the General Permit, they can still apply for an Individual Permit, but the process will be much longer and require more scrutiny from EPA.
This proposed Draft General Permit would allow an applicant to “impact” (meaning “fill in”) up to half an acre of Category 1 or Category 2 wetland, and up to 300 feet of stream. The General Permit would not be available to cover impacts to the highest quality Category 3 wetlands and the highest quality streams and other water bodies. Any impacts would have to be “made up” by purchasing credits at a mitigation bank, which is an entity that will construct artificial wetlands to replace those that are impacted by new construction projects. The permit would require a company to buy credits for at least 1.5 times the number of acres of wetland that they impacted. In theory, applicants would be “making up” their impacts to our wetlands.
However, Ohio EPA published a discouraging self-assessment of its mitigation program in 2006 and another in 2010.
In spite of the mitigation ratios, the mitigation projects have been dismal failures in terms of replacing the valuable functions of wetlands.
The OEC, along with the Buckeye Forest Council , Sierra Club, and the Center for Health, Environment and Justice submitted comments to OEPA regarding the Draft General Permit, urging first and foremost that EPA put greater emphasis on the avoiding and minimizing impacts to our wetlands, and to treat mitigation as a last resort. The coalition urged OEPA to:
- Prevent applicants from inadvertently impacting certain wetlands that are difficult for the untrained eye to recognize as wetlands;
- Notify local authorities – especially flood plain managers, of proposed drilling activity;
- Ensure that drillers don’t use the streams or wetland as a water source, which would probably dry them out
- Work with DNR to monitor impacts to streams and wetlands throughout the life of the drilling operation;
- Prevent multiple drilling sites in the same wetland are from cumulatively causing large impacts by limiting total impacts to each wetland to 0.5 acres.
Read OEC/BFC/Sierra Club/CHEJ Joint Comments here.
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