County’s rejection of grant request is misguided

When the Friends of the Lower Muskingum River approached the Washington County Commissioners about a grant opportunity last week, the commissioners immediately jumped to the answer of “no”— something we think they should reconsider.

The nonprofit wasn’t asking the commissioners for money, simply for their permission to apply for a Clean Ohio Conservation Fund grant. The grant would then be used to purchase 223 acres of land in Washington and Morgan counties to be preserved as green space. A pollinator habitat would also be created on the site.

This is land that already has an environmental lien placed on it, meaning new buildings, removal of top soil or harvesting of trees is not permitted.

The Friends group could do some really beneficial projects with the land, and it doesn’t seem like the commissioners stopped to consider that.

Commissioner David White said he felt the $400,000 estimated value of the land was too high. But why not let the Friends of the Lower Muskingum River apply for the grant and see if they can purchase the land for less?

Commissioner Ron Feathers said he couldn’t approve of taxpayer money being used for this purpose, even if it didn’t come from local taxpayers.

This is money already set aside in the Clean Ohio Conservation Fund budget. It will be used for a conservation project, if not here than somewhere else. It won’t be used for schools or roads or any other purpose. Why not have local people benefit from the grant?

Feathers’ comment that a project like this “needs to be privately funded” is frustrating and misguided. It seems to indicate that he doesn’t think projects that help the environment are important enough to be government-funded.

We would make exactly the opposite argument. Protecting the environment, whether it be working to achieve cleaner air and water, protecting wildlife or preserving forests and green space, is essential to everyone’s health and well-being, now and for future generations.

This spring or summer, we would encourage the commissioners to visit the pollinator habitat the Friends created at the Luke Chute Conservation Area near Stockport. They added 33 different kinds of plants to the eight-acre site to attract pollinators like butterflies, bees, moths and birds.

Pollinators are vital to sustaining ecosystems and helping plants reproduce, meaning the continuation of many fruits, vegetables and nuts as well as oil, fibers and other raw materials. There are 400 native species of bees just in southeast Ohio that are important to keep around.

Maybe the commissioners don’t understand this. We hope it’s not that they just don’t care, because we think many of our residents do. If you’re one of them, please let your county officials know, or contact Friends of the Lower Muskingum River at 740-374-4170 or to see how you can help.

We hope commissioners White, Feathers and Kevin Ritter will do a little more research, spend a little more time thinking on this and perhaps reconsider.