95 percent of ancient Ohio was forested. But centuries ago there were also small regions of prairie. Tall grasses and wildflowers were part of the prairie ecology and so were bison. Researchers near Columbus are trying to reestablish a prairie / bison ecosystem.
Columbia Gas Pipeline A Risk To OSU Wetlands?
Listen to the Story
Columbia Gas of Ohio says it needs to replace a natural gas pipeline on Columbusâ€™ north side. But one of the proposed new routes would take the pipeline underneath an environmentally sensitive wetlands research park.
A decision on the new underground pipeline could come in early 2012. But the proposal is controversial. The key players are Columbia Gas, Ohio State University and the Sierra Club. Wetlands director William Mitsch is skeptical that the research park can be protected if Columbia Gas installs the pipeline.
â€œWell I think it came as a shock to some of us that this was even being considered,â€ Mitsch says. â€œItâ€™s a research facility; itâ€™s a teaching facility, and the idea that we would put an intrusive pipe underneath the wetlands even if it were put in properly, 10 years, 20 years, 30 years from now there might be problems.â€
The wetlands park is situated just north of the OSU main campus on Dodridge Street. Itâ€™s bordered on the west and east by the old Union Cemetery and the Olentangy River.
The Ohio Power Siting Board is considering two routes for the pipeline including the one that would run beneath the wetlands. Columbia Gas spokesman Steve Jablonski says the pipeline will be drilled horizontally 60 feet underground and is not likely to disturb the wetlands.
â€œWe are equally concerned about not disturbing the environment,â€ Jablonski says.
Jablonski says that with directional boring no surface trenching or other disturbances are necessary. But environmentalists arenâ€™t so sure. The Sierra Clubâ€™s Ben Wickizer asks what would happen if something goes wrong 60 feet below the surface.
â€œThatâ€™s a big concern to us because itâ€™s a very sensitive and special area that serves as habitat for a huge number of species here,â€ Wickizer says.
Wickizer says The Sierra Club has been negotiating with Columbia Gas to construct the new pipeline using the alternate route.
â€œWeâ€™re not saying that they shouldnâ€™t put any pipeline in; we just donâ€™t believe it should go under the wetlands and potentially put this area at risk,â€ Wickizer says.
For its part, Ohio State University has contracted with a third party to weigh risks to the wetlands. Director of planning Laura Shinn says the university wants to clarify its obligations to the wetlands park.
â€œSo this company is going to be doing a review â€“ a risk analysis is what weâ€™re calling it. Because we do want to make sure that thereâ€™s no quantifiable risk to the wetlands before we make a decision on this,â€ Shinn says.
If the pipeline runs underneath the wetlands, Ohio State would gain financially. Columbia Gas would pay the university for an easement through the property.
â€œThere would be a charge for the easement which is standard and we have not even looked into the value of that easement,â€ Shinn says. â€œI donâ€™t have a sense of what that value would be.â€
Regardless of the financial value, wetlands director William Mitsch is suspicious. Heâ€™s concerned that economics might jeopardize land that he describes as sacred.
â€œThe university wonâ€™t do this for nothing, we know that,â€ Mitsch says. â€œAnd we have this policy now that weâ€™ve got to â€˜Use our lands more.â€™ So is this using our lands more, i.e. making money on them? I donâ€™t know.â€
Columbia Gas says that the proposed pipeline will cost $10 million whether or not it runs underneath the Wetlands Research Park. A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for early January.