Bob Downing

The city of Akron is seeking $2.25 million to reduce high waters along Brewster Creek in South Akron.

The project would allow the city to restore 5,600 linear feet of the stream to reduce erosion and curtail flooding.

Metro Parks, Serving Summit County is seeking $1.1 million to expand Silver Creek Metro Park in Norton.

It also wants to create a new park along Nimisila Creek in New Franklin and to build a new connector trail from Firestone Metro Park to the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail along the Akron-Coventry Township line.

Those four projects are among 42 across Ohio that are eligible for money from the Clean Ohio Fund from the state of Ohio. All are in danger of not getting money.

The problem is that the Clean Ohio Fund is not being fully funded by the Kasich administration, and that leaves the sponsors of local projects worried, unhappy and frustrated.

They want the Ohio General Assembly to fully fund the Clean Ohio program.

Gov. John Kasich’s new capital budget for fiscal years 2013 and 2014 provides only $6 million for trails — with no money for green space or farmland preservation.

Ohio could have provided up to the $50 million-a-year maximum allowed under state law, but Kasich’s Office of Budget & Management chose not to fully fund the programs for green space, farmland preservation and trails because of Ohio’s tight budget.

About 30 parties testified on Wednesday and urged the Senate Finance Committee to fully fund the program.

The Clean Ohio Fund program creating the $400 million bond issue to protect green space, rivers and shrinking farmland and to clean up and redevelop polluted urban sites, often called brownfields, was first approved by Ohio voters in 2000. It was renewed in 2008.

Half of the money goes to brownfield cleanups; the other half for green space, parks and trails.

The funds came from the sale of state bonds and were paid back with liquor-sale profits and general state revenues. As those funds were paid back, additional bonds were sold.

The Clean Ohio Fund has been “a valuable asset” for cities like Akron and had been approved by Ohio voters, said Akron Service Director Rick Merolla.

“We don’t understand why it’s being terminated…and we’d like to see it continue,” he said.

“It’s a crying shame … and very disappointing,” said Keith Shy, secretary-director of Metro Parks, Serving Summit County.

“Economics is driving the decision, and I understand that even if I don’t like it,” he said.

His park district has gotten $4,614,933 in Clean Ohio Funds from 2003 through 2010.

Major impact

The state money funded the creation of Springfield Bog Metro Park in Springfield Township, Liberty Park in three communities in northern Summit County and still-developing Confluence Park on the Akron-Coventry border.

It also helped complete the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail in Summit County.

Getting the Clean Ohio Fund money made all four projects possible, Shy said.

The loss of such funds will make it more difficult to complete and will likely delay the new park areas in Norton and New Franklin and the connector trail, he said.

Those three projects together have a total price tag of about $9 million.

“There are things that we’re not going to be able to do because of a lack of funds,” he said.

Metro Parks and its support group, Friends of Metro Parks, have met with Summit County legislators to seek their support for funding the full Clean Ohio Fund program.

“So many people care so much that I feel the program should be fully funded,” said Christine Freitag of Akron, a spokeswoman for the friends group. “That was the intent and it’s done so much good over the years.”

Other local projects among the 42 that are pending in Columbus are:

•?The city of Akron and the Western Reserve Land Conservancy want to build a one-mile trail along Adam’s Run in southeast Akron. The stream flows into the Little Cuyahoga River.

•?Barberton wants $520,045 to build a connector trail from downtown Barberton to the Towpath Trail. It has a $235,754 local match.

•?Twinsburg and Metro Parks, Serving Summit County, $880,000 to build the 1.38-mile bikeway at Liberty Park.

•?Cleveland Museum of Natural History and the Western Reserve Land Conservancy, $329,936 to purchase Long Lake Bog in Coventry Township and additional land at Singer Lake Bog in the city of Green.

•?The Stark County Park District and the Stark County District Library, $1.1 million to add 110 acres to Fry Family Park in Pike Township. An old barn will become an educational center. A commercial building on state Route 800 will become a maintenance facility and a new library branch.

•?Stark County Park District, $371,000 to build a two-mile-long trail on the Kent State University Stark Campus and the Stark State College campus to connect to a city of North Canton trail at Dressler Road Northwest.

Other projects at risk

The loss of Clean Ohio Funds also jeopardizes completion of the Towpath Trail in northern Tuscarawas County.

The Akron-based Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition is seeking five Clean Ohio grants to fund trail work north of Bolivar, from Zoarville to Dover, in Dover and two projects in New Philadelphia

It is seeking $6,375,000 in state funds. The total price tag is $8.5 million.

If Clean Ohio Funds are not available, those important trail connections are “at risk and may not be completed,” the coalition said.

“It’s just been really frustrating,” said Dan Rice, executive director of the Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition. “We’re grateful for the $6 million for trails, but that leaves all the other projects across Ohio in limbo. That’s disappointing.”

The law, he said, authorizes Ohio to spend the money but the state is not required to do so.

“The real question is: Why aren’t we funding it?” he said. “It’s a program that’s important to community and economic development and does create jobs.”

The Clean Ohio Fund has been “a really good investment for Ohio beyond just dollars and cents,” said Trent Dougherty, an attorney with the Ohio Environmental Council.

Ohio is well under its 5 percent state debt limit and could fund the Clean Ohio program, if it so desired, he said.

Environmentalists and park supporters are hopeful that legislators will provide maximum funding for the program, he said. “That’s the next step in the process,” he said. “We’ll have to see what happens.”

Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or bdowning@thebeaconjournal.com.