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Published: Friday, 5/7/2004

Fulton County resources plan stirs concerns

BY KIM BATES
BLADE STAFF WRITER

WAUSEON - Randy Ruge considers himself lucky to live within the pristine Oak Openings Region, where his home is surrounded by wetlands, trees, and other natural sights.

But Mr. Ruge, a Swancreek Township trustee, is concerned that the recent removal of language from a proposed countywide natural resource plan could negatively impact endangered species within Fulton County.

"I fear loss of species. I fear loss of green spaces," he said. "I fear loss of many things that attracted us to the area."

Leaders from across Fulton County recently voted 13-1 to approve their first natural resource amendment to an existing county development plan. The amendment, which still must be approved by the county commissioners, is one of the first to be compiled among smaller Ohio communities.

Mr. Ruge credited county leaders with the effort, but he questioned why they agreed to take out two pages of information about rare plant species in the county, namely three types of plants that are considered endangered by the state.

County Commissioner Dean Genter said he wanted to have the information removed because he felt it could serve as a future deterrent for development.

"My feeling is I don't want something on a document that someone can hold against a landowner's individual property," the commissioner said yesterday.

The person who cast the lone vote against the amendment was Clinton Township Trustee Larry Neuenschwander. He said yesterday that his reasons for not supporting the amendment have nothing to do with the endangered species matter.

Steve Brown, planning director for the county,

said he doesn't believe the issue would have an adverse impact on endangered species.

He pointed to a detailed explanation in the amendment about the Oak Openings Region, where the bulk of the rare plants are found.

He added that developers and planners already must abide by environmental regulations when drawing up and approving construction plans.

The amendment is to be used, he said, as more of a guideline for officials, not an actual enforcement tool.

"I really don't think it has that much of an impact itself," he said. "My feeling is that the information is out there. When we do environmental reviews, we have to look at those things."

Developments are not stopped by the presence of endangered species, said Kendra Wecker, the wildlife diversity coordinator for the state's Division of Wildlife. She said wildlife officials, though, do try to avoid damage and minimize impact on the species and their environments when projects are developed.

Mr. Ruge said he intends to raise the issue at Monday night's Swancreek Township trustees meeting. At that time, he said he'll make a motion to send a letter to the commissioners seeking to have the language placed back into the amendment.

Commissioner Jack Graf said yesterday that he planned to review the entire amendment before rendering a decision about it.

Mr. Brown said commissioners are expected to decide on the matter by the middle of the month.

Contact Kim Bates at:

kimbates@theblade.com

or 419-337-7780.



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