LISBON, Ohio - Columbiana County commissioners are the latest local government agency to lend its support to the efforts of a local group seeking to prevent any drilling or logging at Beaver Creek State Park.
Commissioners adopted a resolution this week pledging to "exercise our authority and influence to prevent such activities" at Beaver Creek State Park. The resolution also opposed withdrawing water from the creek for drilling.
The organization, Save Beaver Creek State Park, is concerned about two state laws that allow for logging and oil and gas drilling in state parks and on state lands. Beaver Creek State Forest and Yellow Creek State Forest near Salineville have been identified as among the first to be considered for drilling under a draft plan being considered by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
The local organization is led by Jim Kerr, curator of the park's wildlife center, who told commissioners that allowing either drilling or logging at the park is "a tragedy in the making," citing the numerous harmful environmental impacts both activities could have on the park's plant and animal life.
Kerr said perhaps the biggest impact would be the possible loss of Beaver Creek's designation as a State and National Wild and Scenic River from logging near the creek. Removing the shade and other benefits trees provide would harm the creek's water quality, resulting in a decrease in the aquatic life that supports the diversity of fish and other creatures that live in the stream.
"The 60-plus species of fish living in Beaver Creek ... make this creek one of the most pristine in Ohio, and that is because of the woodland habitat that surrounds the creek. This will all change with drilling and logging," he said.
The park was described as a tourist attraction, with visitors coming there to ride horses, hike the trails, camp and fish. Kerr said logging and drilling would certainly diminish the park's appearance and aesthetic appeal, resulting in the loss of tourist dollars to the local economy.
The laws require a percentage of the revenue derived from logging and drilling to go to the park where the activity occurred, and for that reason Kerr emphasized they are not opposed to drilling under the park, which is possible because of horizontal drilling, as long as the well site is located outside the park.
"It's not our intention to stop the income from drilling but to stop drilling from occurring in the park," he said
Commissioners praised the park, with John Payne calling it of the "jewels" of the county. "We do have such a jewel, I would hate to see it spoiled," he said.
When asked afterwards if the resolution the group drafted obligated commissioners to take action to prevent logging and drilling at the park, Kerr said they are only looking for support when they make their case to the ODNR.
"It just asks for their support so when we do talk to the people at the state who are in charge of this they will know we have local support," he said, adding the support will be helpful when they begin lobbying the local state representative and state senator.
State Rep. Craig Newbold and former state Sen. Jason Wilson both voted in favor of the law allowing drilling in state parks.