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OEC Applauds State’s Move to Save Wetlands

Ohio Environmental Council, May 3, 2013

Rare natural area to remain in hands of ODNR and citizens of Ohio.

The Ohio Environmental Council is applauding the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ (ODNR) decision this week to terminate its contract with a private developer to swap a rare, forested, urban wetland for a larger but ecologically inferior tract of land.

“We applaud ODNR for doing the right thing and acting in the best interests of the State, the citizens of Ohio and the environment,” said Kristen Kubitza, Director of Water Policy & Outreach for the OEC. “This is a big win for the Sawmill Wetlands, other wetlands across the state, and the public.”

The ODNR accepted the 17.8 acre property located in Columbus in 1996 with an obligation to preserve the area “in perpetuity” for the people of Ohio. Upon learning of the proposed land swap, the OEC and partners reached out to ODNR and worked for nearly a year to find a common-ground solution that would meet all parties’ interests. 

View photos of the wetlands from the Columbus Dispatch.

In February of this year it appeared that finding a solution outside of the courtroom was not feasible so OEC’s Ohio Environmental Law Center filed a lawsuit. The lawsuit sought to stop the proposed land swap and ensure the Sawmill Wetlands would not face similar threats in the future. 

The OEC contended that the proposed “land swap” violated the requirement that the Sawmill Wetlands be permanently preserved and the state’s public trust obligations.

The protected public wetland, known as the Sawmill Wetlands Education Area, is located in Columbus and managed by the ODNR Division of Wildlife. The property includes a dense mature forest and 8.6 acres of natural wetlands, which reduce flood waters and clean storm runoff. 

Located in a dense, urban area northwest of the city core, the Sawmill Wetlands provide critical wildlife habitat, supporting 140 different identified bird species and a breeding population of salamanders.

The Ohio EPA has classified the Sawmill Wetlands as high quality. They are one of only a few remaining high-quality wetlands within Columbus’ I-270 outerbelt. 

“The termination of the contract to swap the Sawmill Wetlands is great news and an important and positive step in the right direction,” said Cathryn N. Loucas, Staff Attorney with the OEC. “We look forward to working with ODNR to resolve the remaining issues in the lawsuit and ensure the permanent preservation and proper management of the Sawmill Wetlands.”