Capital News: Ohio Statehouse Potpourri: Salt, governor's honor and frack plan

by MARC KOVAC | CAPITAL BUREAU CHIEF Published:

Columbus -- State transportation officials had to ask the Controlling Board last week for more money to buy more salt to treat Ohio's roadways during wintery weather.

It was the third time in three meetings the Ohio Department of Transportation sought the lawmaker panel's approval for supplies, this time for $215,000 to purchase another 5,000 tons of road salt from Morton Salt Inc.

According to ODOT spokesman Steve Faulkner, the agency has used more than 927,000 tons of salt since Oct. 1, at a cost of nearly $101 million. That's way up from the 518,713 tons (at a cost of about $55 million) used during the same period a year earlier. In fact, for all of last winter, ODOT used only 731,757 tons of salt, at a cost of about $81 million.

Also according to Faulkner, ODOT snowplows have driven more than 11 million miles, and the agency expects to top 1 million tons of salt before winter is over.

Honored

Gov. John Kasich snagged top honors from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society last week, being named the 2013 Governor of the Year.

The group praised Kasich for his decision to expand Medicaid coverage for more needy Ohioans, among other reasons for the award.

"Gov. Kasich has done important things for people with disabilities and their families, including those affected by MS," Cyndi Zagieboylo, president and chief executive officer of the society, said in a released statement. "His commitment to helping people with disabilities live their best lives is appreciated and the Society is pleased to honor him."

Kasich responded in his own released statement, "We have a moral obligation to reach out and help our fellow Ohioans who need a hand and I think that Ohio is doing that with purpose, with thoughtfulness and with a commitment to being good stewards of taxpayers' money."

Fracking

Democrats aren't letting up on what they are calling "FrackGate" -- that is, the recently discovered marketing plan state officials assembled to push horizontal hydraulic fracturing in certain state parks and forests.

The documents, from 2012, note intentions to "exercise state-owned drilling rights" at Sunfish Creek State Forest in Monroe County, Wolf Run State Park in Noble County and Barkcamp State Park in Belmont County "in a way that maximizes benefits and safeguards for Ohioans, completely avoids park surface disturbance and minimizes forest surface disturbance...."

A section of the plan titled, "Communication Problem to Solve," states that "an initiative to proactively open state park and forest land to horizontal drilling/hydraulic fracturing will be met with zealous resistance by environmental activist opponents, who are skilled propagandists."

At least two Democratic state lawmakers were named among the latter.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has since said the plan was never implemented, and Kasich says he no longer supporters drilling in state parks or forests.

Last week, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, a Democrat who hopes to unseat Kasich in November, called for a formal investigation into the matter, saying, "... it's exactly the kind of behavior I would have found worthy of investigation as an FBI agent."

He added, "Regulatory government agencies should not be spearheading a public relations campaign for the industries they are supposed to regulate."

And state Rep. Chris Redfern (D-Catawba Island), who also serves as head of the Ohio Democratic Party, pulled several ODNR-related items from last week's Controlling Board agenda, using the question-and-answer time to press a representative of the agency on potential future drilling in state parks.

Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.

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