Officials from the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) were in Plain City on March 22 to pitch the organization's Big Darby watershed planning partnership.

Officials from the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) were in Plain City on March 22 to pitch the organization's Big Darby watershed planning partnership.

Those in attendance at the Plain City Public Library, however, questioned whether another layer of regulations in the area is needed - or wanted.

"It's been a year since we started this process," Jerry Tinianow, director of MORPC's Center for Energy and Environment, said to the crowd. "We didn't know how we would be received, and there was some skepticism from the first few communities, but we've started four (planning efforts), and so far more than 80 communities in the region have joined."

Tinianow was referring to MORPC's efforts to create a "balanced-growth plan" for each of the five watersheds in central Ohio. The organization has spent the past year organizingsuch plans for the Olentangy, Big Walnut, Walnut Creek and Upper Scioto watersheds and is beginning the process for the Big Darby watershed, which encompasses the southern portion of Union County (parts of Jerome, Darby, Union, Allen and Paris townships), a large section of Madison County and portions of Champaign and Franklin counties.

The idea is to "protect Ohio's watersheds and ensure its economic competitiveness," MORPC associate planner Erin Grushon said.

"The central Ohio region is expected to grow by nearly 50,000 people by the year 2030," MORPC associate planner Joe Kitchen said. "Balanced-growth planning provides communities with the opportunity to prioritize areas for directed development and areas to conserve at the regional level."

Local farmer Bob Scott seemed to view the concept as redundant and intrusive.

"We already have a watershed action plan, and there is a board that represents the various communities that does exist," Scott said. "Our biggest concern is what kind of controls will come down the pike from this sort of activity. The reason this watershed exists is because of agriculture. My biggest concern is that agriculture will be left out of this plan."

For a balanced-growth plan to be enacted in the watershed, 75 percent of the communities would have to adopt it, as well as 75 percent of the overall population.

Madison County commissioner Mark Forrest asked if the plan would mean a majority of townships could force one dissenting township into action under the plan.

Tinianow said each community in the watershed would adopt the plan individually, and each entity represented would get a veto.

"The way it works out in virtually every watershed is that the only way anyone gets what they want is if everyone gets what they want," Tinianow said.

A touted perk of the plans available to participating communities would be special incentives through 28 state programs. Those incentives would come in the form of grants, tax credits, technical assistance, loans and insurance discounts from such agencies as the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Agriculture, Ohio EPA and others.

"It's a community of communities, which, we think, will have more influence dealing with the EPA, the state (and other agencies) than any one member could have on their own," Tinianow said.

One resident asked if communities could be eligible for the special incentives without being a watershed member.

"I don't know of any instances where (Ohio) has said yes outside of this process," Tinianow said.

Grushon said the next step in the process would be to form a steering committee of interested communities to meet in April or May, before the full partnership meets in June. A draft of the final watershed plan should be completed by December.

Detailed information, including maps and background on the watershed plans, is online at http://balancedgrowthplanning.morpc.org.