Factory farm rules in Ohio called loose; Group warns of environmental dangers

By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau

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COLUMBUS — Ohio doesn’t do enough to regulate its factory farms, and the state’s environment suffers as a result, according to a report issued yesterday by a national environmental group.

The Natural Resources Defense Council said Ohio and other states regulate the enormous complexes with the same hands-off attitude they use for small family farms. The group writes that manure from the farms pollutes nearby air and water.

“Factory farms have polluted our surface waters, our ground water, and our air,” the report says. “It’s time to recognize the damage that animal factories are wreaking on our environment.”

Under Ohio law, a factory farm is one with more than 750 dairy cows, 1,000 beef cattle, 2,400 hogs, or 100,000 poultry. Ten years ago, fewer than a dozen of these industrial-sized farms existed in Ohio. About 110 are in operation today.

The group’s findings match the complaints of Ohioans who live near the Buckeye Egg Farm, the giant poultry producer that has been criticized often about environmental matters.

Neighbors have complained about the odor caused by the large amounts of manure generated by Buckeye Egg’s chickens, including the 2.2 million chickens near Mt. Victory, O., in Hardin County. They say that the manure attracts swarms of flies that stretch for miles, that their homes have been attacked by beetles, and that the manure has polluted their water.

But an official with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency said the report’s criticisms are overblown and biased.

“I believe the authors of the report have an agenda to put forward, and they used information that would help them do just that,” said John Sadzewicz, deputy director of the EPA’s water programs.

Among the report’s claims:

* Ohio does not require air pollution control permits for factory farms. Mr. Sadzewicz said that EPA attorneys examined the issue and found that, as agricultural operations, such permits should not be required for megafarms.

* Ohio does not allow local control over factory farms. Mr. Sadzewicz said that, as agricultural operations, they are exempt from local zoning, as are family farms.

* Ohio allows megafarms to sell off some of the millions of gallons of manure they produce to other farmers, without making the identities of those farmers public. Residents say that prevents them from tracking the manure to make sure that it doesn’t run off into streams.

Mr. Sadzewicz said the EPA knows which farmers get the manure and can do its own checking. But companies can request that the information not be made public under Ohio’s trade secrecy laws.

The report criticized the state for being slow to enforce rules and unwilling to hold public hearings, both of which Mr. Sadzewicz said aren’t accurate claims.

Senate approves funds for area projects

By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau

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COLUMBUS — The Ohio Senate approveda $1.72 billion capital budget yesterday that will provide money for the Fallen Timbers battfield, work on the Valentine theatre and projects at Fort Meigs. It will pay for dozens of community projects around the state.

The bill, which lays out bricks-and-mortar spending for the next two years, includes $505 million for school facilities improvements and $549 million for state colleges and universities.

Other big budget items: prison construction, state park maintenance, and flood relief for southern Ohio.

The House passed the measure on Tuesday, 86-11. It now goes to Governor Voinovich for his signature.

The capital budget moved through the Legislature with unusual speed.

Yesterday morning, the Senate Finance and Financial Institutions committee unanimously approved the bill.

In the afternoon, the measure went to the full Senate, which passed it 28-1.

Most controversially, the bill allocates $44 million to help build stadiums for the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals.

But for legislators, the most hotly contested section was the money set aside for community projects. For Lucas County, the bill provides $44.7 million for com munity projects, putting it behind only Franklin and Cuyahoga counties.

Among local projects getting financial help are the restoration of the Fallen Timbers battlefield ($2 million), work on the Valentine Theatre ($3.5 million), and renovations and a museum of military history at Ft. Meigs ($2.9 million).

Sen. Michael Shoemaker (D., Bourneville) proposed an amendment that would divide the state into eight sections with equal population. Each section would be guaranteed an equal amount of money for community projects in future capital budgets. But the amendment was defeated on a voice vote just before the final vote was taken.

Move to elect port board is rejected; House panel rids bill of proposal

By James Drew and Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau

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COLUMBUS — A legislative committee yesterday rejected an amendment that would have allowed voters to elect members of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority board, saying the experiment would have created a fifth arm of state government.

State Rep. Sally Perz (R., Toledo) urged fellow members of the House Transportation Committee to oppose the amendment, crafted by state Rep. Jack Ford (D., Toledo) in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 3 election. By a 55 to 45 per cent ratio, Lucas County voters rejected the port authority’s 0.4-mill renewal levy.

“I have another philosophical problem with giving the voters – who we all know don’t vote – more power … ” said Ms. Perz, who was re-elected Nov. 3. “It’s not as if the voters of Lucas County are storming the Statehouse saying, `Should you give us the opportunity to vote, we would guarantee we would have different members on the port board.”‘

The committee voted 9-3 to defeat the amendment and then unanimously to refer the bill to the full House of Representatives for approval. The bill would make the most comprehensive change in port authority law in four decades.

Mr. Ford’s amendment would have en abled Lucas County voters to elect the 13 port authority board members in nonpartisan elections starting in November, 1999. The directors would have served for four years.

He said one reason he took up the issue is that he has growing concerns about the makeup of the port authority board, which has only one woman and one African-American, and up until September, no board members lived in the city of Toledo.

Currently, the mayor of Toledo, with consent of the city council, appoints six board members, and county commissioners appoint six. The city and county share one appointment.

Two polls commissioned this fall showed voter support for election of port authority board members.

Rep. Sylvester Patton (D., Youngstown), who carried the amendment for Mr. Ford, said Lucas County would have been a “pilot project” for the state to determine if election of port board members is more effective than appointment.

“Our charge as legislators is to look for the best government possible,” he said.

But Rep. Lynn Olman (R., Maumee) said he did not see any evidence that port authorities with elected members perform better than those with appointed boards.

Committee Chairman Sam Bateman (R., Milford) said he voted against the amendment “because that’s what they wanted.” By “they,” he meant the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority and the committee’s members from Lucas County, Mr. Olman and Ms. Perz.

Mr. Bateman said representatives of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority had contacted his office in the last few days to express their opposition. Mr. Bateman, who is recuperating from neck surgery, said he didn’t recall their names.

Ms. Perz told committee members that the amendment is part of a conflict in Lucas County over the port authority.

“This change may or may not help the current situation. I am also philosophically against coming to the state legislature to resolve something that is really a community issue,” she said.

James Seney, the former Sylvania mayor who now works for the state Department of Development, urged the committee to defeat the amendment for two reasons.

He said state law positions port authorities as “tools” of locally elected governments and accountable through the appointment process.

“If we directly elect port authority board members, we then sever the employer-employee relationship between the local government[s] and the port authority,” he wrote in a memo distributed to committee members.

Mr. Seney, who is co-chairman of the Ohio Port Authority Council, said that by directly electing port board members, the state would create a “fifth independent local government unaccountable to the existing counties, cities, villages, and townships.”

Reps. Rex Damschroder (R., Fremont) and Kirk Schuring (R., Canton) agreed.

“I don’t think we need another level of government,” Mr. Damschroder said.

Several members of the committee said their “no” votes were aimed at keeping the expensive political process away from uncompensated jobs.

“It’s very hard to get people to serve in office when it is a volunteer thing,” said Rep. John Carey (R., Wellston). “And I think it would be really hard to get someone to go through the expense of running for office, unless they had a special interest of some kind.”

Rep. Mark Mallory (D., Cincinnati) agreed, saying that political campaigns aren’t right for port authorities.

“There are enough elected issues as it is. I don’t want to put all the burden of money in a political campaign on the port boards.”

Decision on cellular towers in hands of Ohio’s top court

By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau

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COLUMBUS — The Ohio Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday on whether cellular phone companies should have to follow township zoning laws when they erect communication towers in nonresidential areas.

If the high court agrees with an appeals court ruling, local governments would have no say in whether or not the tall towers go up in certain areas.

The justices heard a case from Stark County’s Plain Township, in which two cellular companies – AT&T Wireless and Ameritech Wireless – wanted to build a 165-foot tower. The township zoning director obtained an injunction to stop construction because the tower would violate township zoning laws.

The companies appealed the case, arguing that they are public utilities to whom township zoning laws don’t apply. An appeals court agreed, meaning that any wireless communications company could build a tower wherever they pleased, as long as it was outside a city or residential area.

Under Ohio law, public utilities can build structures necessary to do their work – such as electrical towers or telephone poles – without interference from zoning laws, according to Gene Naujock, manager of planning for the Toledo-Lucas County Plan Commission.

William Brown, attorney for the wireless companies, said that cellular service is widespread enough that it should qualify as a basic utility and thus be able to avoid zoning restrictions.

But Plain Township attorney Scott Piepho said that cellular phone service isn’t as essential to life as traditional utilities, such as natural gas, electricity, or water. He noted that, unlike with most utilities, rates for cellular phone calls are not regulated by the government.

Mr. Naujock said he would oppose letting wireless companies have too much leeway. “You’ve got a tower that’s 85, 100, 125 feet high, and it becomes a pretty visible object intruding into an area,” he said. “They’re not considered essentials for life. They’re bonus services. A community can survive without them.”

Attorneys for both sides agreed that the case would have no impact on zoning restrictions in residential areas. Under current state law, zoning laws can be applied to towers in those areas.

The Supreme Court will issue its ruling next year.

Bill to post warnings at beaches advances

By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau

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COLUMBUS — The Ohio House of Representatives unanimously approved a bill aimed at telling swimmers when it’s not safe to go into the water at public beaches.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Linda Furney (D., Toledo), requires the state to post signs at all public beaches where bacterial levels exceed safe levels. Currently, testing for bacteria is required, but the sign posting is not.

“This bill brings a renewed sense of confidence for swimming in our lakes,” Ms. Furney said.

It was passed 93-0 yesterday during the General Assembly’s first full session after Tuesday’s elections. It will be returned to the Senate in two weeks for expected approval of changes made by the House. It then will go to the governor for his signature.

Ms. Furney introduced the bill a year ago after discovering that Lake Erie beaches, such as the one at Maumee Bay State Park, had very high bacterial levels on some days, but no signs being posted.

Bacterial counts were found to be at what the state considers unsafe levels on 12 occasions during a 40-day period in the summer at four beaches in Lucas and Ottawa counties. The tests were by a private firm hired by The Blade. But signs alerting swimmers of the danger were only posted for three of those days.

E. coli bacteria can cause nausea, dysentery, hepatitis, and a variety of ear, nose, and throat ailments. Particularly at risk are the young, the old, and those with weakened immune systems.

“The most vulnerable of our population need to be protected from bacterial contamination at Lake Erie beaches, and this will help do just that,” said Amy Simpson, director of the Ohio Public Interest Research Group, which has been pushing Ms. Furney’s bill for more than a year.

High bacterial levels are primarily caused by bird droppings and by heavy rains and winds, which can sweep human and animal feces into the water.

In other action, the House approved a bill aimed at preserving farmland threatened by suburban sprawl. It allows farmers to sell or donate easements on their farm land to local governments to guarantee it will continue to be used for agriculture.

“This is about protecting one of our most important nonrenewable resources,” said State Rep. Gene Krebs (R., Camden).

Mr. Krebs said passing the bill would help balance a bias in state law that encourages sprawl by subsidizing expenses like sewer line extensions.

He stressed that, under the bill, decisions remain with local governments, who could choose not to use their new power. But some localities would likely feel so strongly about stopping or slowing development that they would be willing to purchase an easement.

“This is only for willing buyers and willing sellers,” he said.

But Rep. Richard Hodges (R., Swanton) said that putting easements in the hands of politicians means that development interests would simply have to apply political pressure of local leaders to be able to extend development. He pointed to a clause in the bill which allows for the easement to be “extinguished” if land becomes un farmable.

“It’ll just be, `Oh, gosh, it’s impractical to use that land for agriculture,’ and one way or another, it’ll be developed,” he said.

Still, the bill passed 87-5.

The measure will go back to the Senate for approval of changes, then to the governor.

Furney to compete for minority leader

By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau

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COLUMBUS — State Sen. Linda Furney (D., Toledo) will be running for the highest nonjudicial post a Democrat will hold in Ohio next year.

Ms. Furney yesterday announced her intentions of running for Senate minority leader against the current leader, Sen. Ben Espy (D., Columbus).

“I think that I can bring the kind of team-building we need as a caucus,” Ms. Furney said.

She easily won re-election Tuesday in Toledo’s 11th Senate District with more than 70 per cent of the vote. She became assistant minority leader in 1996. Before that, she was minority whip.

Mr. Espy – who also won re-election with more than 70 per cent of the vote – said he fully intends to run again, and that Ms. Furney told him of her intentions yesterday morning. “We have the kind of relationship where we can talk about that,” he said.

Whoever wins the post will lead the Senate’s 12 Democrats. There are 21 Republicans.

The two other Democratic leaders in the Senate are Minority Whip Jeffrey Johnson (D., Cleveland) and Assistant Minority Whip Leigh Herington (D., Kent). Mr. Johnson, who did not seek re-election, is facing federal charges of shaking down grocers for campaign contributions in exchange for favors.

No date for a caucus vote has been set, but it will be held before the end of the year.

First woman to lead Ohio; Hollister to be governor for brief period in January

By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau

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COLUMBUS — Ohio’s next governor will be a woman.

No, Bob Taft isn’t hiding something. But a quirk in inauguration scheduling means that Lt. Gov. Nancy Hollister will spend about a week in early January as the state’s chief executive.

Here’s the situation: Governor Voinovich, newly elected to the U.S. Senate, will start that job at noon on Jan. 3, when the Senate session begins. But his term as governor doesn’t end – and Mr. Taft’s doesn’t begin – until Jan. 11.

Ohio state law prevents a governor from holding any other office, so Mr. Voinovich will have to resign his current position.

And, under state law, that means that Lt. Governor Hollister will become Governor Hollister, if only for seven days. She will be the 66th person – and first woman – to hold the office.

Ms. Hollister is disappointed that she gets the chance to be governor, though. On Tuesday, she lost her race for the U.S. House of Representatives in southern Ohio’s Sixth District to incumbent Democrat Ted Strickland.

Had she won, she would have been sworn in at the same time Mr. Voinovich was and would have lost out on being governor.

Through a spokesman, Ms. Hollister, former mayor of Marietta, said she did not want to talk about her impending role as Ohio’s chief executive.

Had Ms. Hollister landed the House seat, Senate President Richard Finan (R., Cincinnati) would have been next in line for the governor’s mansion.

Or, more likely, Ms. Hollister would have resigned early, allowing Mr. Voinovich to appoint a lieutenant governor who would be interim chief executive.

Some political leaders had suggested that interim governor could have been outgoing senator and freshly minted American hero John Glenn.

Ms. Hollister’s promotion will not affect her state pension. But she will receive pay for that week at the governor’s rate, $115,762 a year, instead of the lieutenant governor’s $59,861.

There is a precedent for all this. In 1957, Gov. Frank Lausche was in a similar situation – leaving the governor’s mansion early to head for the U.S. Senate.

Back then, lieutenant governors were elected separately from governors, and the Democratic Mr. Lausche’s lieutenant governor was Medina Republican John W. Brown.

Mr. Brown certainly made the most of the 11 days he spent as governor. He moved into the governor’s mansion, replacing portraits of Democrats with Republicans.

He called a joint session of the General Assembly to deliver a State of the State address. Mr. Brown tried to get involved in a strike settlement, and sent a letter to Vice President Richard Nixon asking for a federal job after his abbreviated term was up.

Most controversially, he commuted the life sentences of five convicted murderers, all of whom eventually were paroled.

Two of the five were involved in the killing of a Cleveland police officer.

After his term as governor, Mr. Brown served in the Ohio House and Senate, and then 12 more years as lieutenant governor under James Rhodes and John Gilligan. He died in 1993.

State seal given its Wrights; State seal proposal shown

By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau

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COLUMBUS — John Glenn wasn’t the only Ohioan thinking about taking flight yesterday.

On the steps of the Statehouse, a Dayton mortgage banker unveiled the artwork he’s been slaving over for six months and been pushing for more than three years: a new Ohio state seal.

The change proposed by William Burnett: adding the Wright brothers’ 1903 airplane, flying straight into the seal’s sunrise.

“I’ve been spending all my spare time on the weekends working on it,” Mr. Burnett said, standing next to the colorful seal prototype. “It’s an important change we want to make.”

Mr. Burnett says that if state government agrees to adopt his seal, it would boost economic development and tourism – not to mention settle the ugly, decades-old debate between Ohio and North Carolina over who was truly “first in flight.”

“It’s an injustice to our state, as the place where the first plane was built,” he said.

Orville and Wilbur Wright were Dayton residents, and they tested and designed their airplane prototypes there. But when they wanted to find a windy place to try their first real flight, they tossed their plane on a train and headed off to Kitty Hawk, N.C.

U.S. treasurer backs Democrat Donofrio for her former state post

By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau

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COLUMBUS — John Donofrio, the Democratic candidate for state treasurer, has received what may be the most widely circulated endorsement in the nation.

Mr. Donofrio, who is running against Republican Joseph Deters, was lauded yesterday by Mary Ellen Withrow, the Treasurer of the United States, whose personal signature appears on every piece of U.S. paper currency.

Ms. Withrow held the office Mr. Donofrio is seeking from 1983 to 1994. A Clinton administration appointee, she is the only person in American history to serve as a county treasurer, a state treasurer, and U.S. treasurer.

“John Donofrio has been an excellent county treasurer for 20 years, and he’ll be an excellent state treasurer,” Mrs. Withrow said. “Doesn’t it make sense to elect a county treasurer to be the state treasurer? It’s a no-brainer.”

Mr. Donofrio has been the Summit County treasurer since 1979. Mr. Deters is the Hamilton County prosecutor – a point Mr. Donofrio has criticized in this campaign.

“Taking care of the public’s money is very different from being a prosecuting attorney,” Mrs. Withrow said.

She singled out for criticism Mr. Deters’ stance on the state’s linked deposit programs. Under the programs, created by Mrs. Withrow, the state agrees to deposit a small portion of its money in a local Ohio bank. In exchange, the bank makes the money available to small businesses and farms for loans at 3 per cent below the standard interest rate.

Mr. Donofrio runs a similar program in Summit County, for which he received an Achievement Award from the National Association of Counties.

In a newspaper interview in June, Mr. Deters called the program a “subsidy” and said that “if a business can’t survive in today’s economy, it probably shouldn’t be in business.”

Mrs. Withrow disagreed.

“It’s an investment, not a subsidy,” she said.

Last week, Mr. Deters accused Mr. Donofrio of spreading “inaccurate information” and said he supports linked deposit, with additional tools to detect abuse.

As a result, the Donofrio campaign changed its television ad, which had said that Mr. Deters “will cut link deposits.” The ad, which began airing statewide yesterday, now says that Mr. Donofrio “will continue” the programs.

State eyes rules for privately run prison

By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau

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COLUMBUS — A legislative committee wants Ohio’s only privately run prison to be run just like the ones the state runs. That way, lawmakers figure, it might do a better job of keeping murderers inside its walls.

“There needs to be a greater level of oversight and monitoring,” said Sen. Rhine McLin (D., Dayton).

Ms. McLin chairs the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee, which has spent the last two months holding hearings and gathering testimony on the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center in Youngstown. That prison is owned by Tennessee-based Corrections Corp. of America and houses prisoners sentenced in the Washington, D.C. court system.

The prison has been plagued by troubles since it opened last year, with dozens of stabbings, two murders, and accusations of improper and unsafe staff training.

Most notorious were the events of July 25, when six inmates, in broad daylight, cut holes through two fences in a recreation area and escaped. Four of the men were serving sentences for murder.

Correctional officers did not detect the escape until another inmate let them know about it. All six were eventually recaptured, one near the Canadian border.

In a report released yesterday, the panel said the inmates had somehow gained access to a wire cutter before the escape. When the breakout occurred, the number of guards watching the recreation area was below the number required by CCA rules, and half of the ones who were there were had walked away from their positions, leaving a portion of the yard unsupervised.

In addition, the motion detectors on an eight-foot section of the perimeter fence were set up incorrectly, meaning that approaching the fence would not set them off, the report said.

Guards never figured this out, even though the detectors had been misaligned for several months and they were supposed to have been tested repeatedly. But inmates did; they did their own testing for several weeks by kicking soccer balls at it and noticing alarms did not go off.

Among the recommendations made by the panel report:

* Private prisons should be required to meet the same standards of employee training, security, and inmate programs that Ohio state prisons do.

* They should not be allowed to house any inmates classified higher than medium security, or who have a history of violence in previous prison stays. The committee found that some maximum-security prisoners were “deliberately misclassified” by Washington officials after Youngstown officials were told only medium-security inmates would be housed there.

* The attorney general’s office should review any deal forged with a local government to open a private prison to ensure that the proposal follows state law.

“Halleluja~h!” said Attorney General Betty Montgomery, who said that sort of oversight is necessary.

* No private prison should be allowed to receive a tax abatement. Such a move would remove one of the major financial incentives private prisons have to come to Ohio, possibly discouraging them from locating here.

CCA officials said they were ready to work with state officials on the committee’s recommendations and had already begun implementing some, including removing all prisoners higher than medium security from Youngstown.