The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) is proposing to sell the 17.85 acre Sawmill State Wetland Education Center to a private entity for development. the 7.5 acre wetlands (vernal pools) and wooded areas was preserved in the 1990s as part of a wetlands conservation deal that developers reached with Ohio EPA after the developer negatively impacted other wetlands. The Sawmill Wetlands are located in the Olentangy Watershed.
The deal ODNR has signed would destroy all but a small portion (2-3 acres) of the Sawmill Wetlands and “recreate” them with constructed wetlands located outside of the watershed. the remaining wetlands would likely become functionally dead. The deal would also give ODNR 43 acres of highly impacted land (some with contaminants) along the Olentangy River.
The Sawmill Wetlands are an emerald jewel in a jungle of concrete. These wetlands are considered high quality by the Ohio EPA and are some of the few remaining wetlands within the I-270 corridor.
There are many concerns with this deal.
– Selling protected wetlands sets a bad precedent for future protection of wetlands in Ohio. The Sawmill Wetlands was supposed to be protected as a wetland in perpetuity. This deal will put into question the validity of any property that has been protected in perpetuity.
– The 43 acre swap site appears unable to serve the same educational function as the Sawmill Wetlands. This site does not have hydric soils (necessary for a functioning wetland). Additionally, it is unclear whether ODNR will put in place the necessary measures to ensure that this property remains a natural space that is open and accessible to the public.