WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, was joking with the Ohio Farm Bureau delegation of county presidents who traveled to Washington March 7-9 when he called politics a “full contact sport.”
But he felt the brunt of that “contact” while defending a widely unpopular stance to the Ohio farm group.
DeWine is not backing down from his support of the controversial central Ohio Little Darby National Wildlife Refuge proposal, saying the region could become a “national jewel.”
“I candidly believe this is the only opportunity to preserve some farmland in that area,” DeWine told the Ohio farmers.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed creating the refuge to protect the Big and Little Darby creeks’ watershed, designated “National Scenic Rivers” in 1994 by the U.S. Department of the Interior. The Ohio Farm Bureau opposes the proposal.
The issue has become an explosive one, with most landowners in the affected region joining county governments and township trustees opposing the refuge, and city officials in Columbus, environmental groups and the Franklin County Metro Parks backing the effort.
DeWine said suburban Columbus is rapidly expanding westward in the two counties involved, Madison and Union. “Farmland is being gobbled up at a very high rate. What you see is nothing but urban sprawl.”
The proposal calls for the outright purchase of nearly 23,000 acres for the refuge, with another 26,000 acres targeted for the purchase of conservation easements and development rights in a zone surrounding the refuge. DeWine stressed eminent domain will not be used in the purchase process.
But another Ohio legislator may hold the key to DeWine’s success in this endeavor.
Veteran lawmaker U.S. Rep. Ralph Regula, R-16th, chairs the House Appropriations interior subcommittee, which controls funding for the plan.
DeWine visited Regula last week to garner support for the refuge.
But Regula told Ohio Farm Bureau members visiting his office the proposal isn’t going anywhere. “I haven’t got any support for it from people who live down there,” Regula said.