Sunday, October 31, 1999

Riverside residents expect change

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Alma Allen's life is punctuated by the flow of the Great Miami River, the call of blue herons and the splash of smallmouth bass.

        From the deck of the cottage on East Miami River Road in Miami Township where she has lived for 40 years, the 68-year-old widow can almost see the soccer field built on the floodplain where she played as a girl.

        She knows the beauty and hazards of the river just being rediscovered by environmentalists, developers and a grass-roots advocacy group called Friends of the Great Miami River. She has seen it grow polluted and lifeless, then watched as the water quality and habitat began to improve, as noted in the latest Ohio Environmental Protection Agency report.

        Other than a few spots she wishes were cleaner or in a more natural state, Mrs. Allen wants to keep the river and her Grandview community as they are.

        “I like it out here. It's pleasant to go down and walk by the river and, mostly, it's quiet,” she said. “I think people live out here because the taxes aren't that bad and they have their freedom.”

"Extract the real value'
        @body:Friends of the Great Miami River wants to open Mrs. Allen's world to the Tristate. Where the river cuts a path through western Hamilton County, the group envisions canoe liveries and trails, parks and purchase of public easements on private land. They want to take many of the modest homes and trailers out of the floodplain.

        Like a group of developers eyeing a well-located but dilapidated city block, Friends wants to bring a renaissance to the river. In the process, some old residents and uses would have to make way for the new.

        “If you're going to extract the real value of that river for the public, you're going to have to deal with that,” said L.H. “Mike” Fremont, president of Rivers Unlimited, the nation's oldest statewide river protection and restoration organization, which is backing the fledgling Friends.

        People already living on the river “are the (ones) you should think of first and they should be dealt with gently.”

        Increasing the use and tourism draw of the river will boost adjoining property values and tax revenues, Mr. Fremont and Friends members say. It is the pitch they will take to elected officials and business leaders.

        But some residents worry that climbing assessments and taxes could price them out of their homes.

        “We're retired and we have a hard enough time paying taxes sometimes as it is. If all that development comes in, I guess it could get worse. And we don't need that,” said 70-year-old Virgie Smith, who has spent the last four decades on a parcel between the river and Jordan Creek on East Miami River Road.

        She and her husband live in one of three mobile homes on their corner, nestled into a curve of Mitchell Memorial Forest. They fight floods and erosion to hold on to their quiet piece of land and don't want to sell it or share it with others, Mrs. Smith said.

        East Miami River Road, running along the river from the Butler County line to Cleves, is lined with houses big and small. There are landscaped lawns and trailers in obvious need of repair. But almost every home has a “no trespassing” sign and a front or back porch with a swing or plastic chair facing the water.

        The beauty and solitude are valued by those who live there. Some want to keep it to themselves, while others agree with Friends that they need to attract attention to the river in order to protect it.

        “I'm willing to sacrifice my own little world here in order to get more help for the river,” said Bernie Fiedeldey, 59, whose family owns three homes and a steel fabricating company on East Miami River Road in Colerain Township. His plant is set back and blocked by a buffer from polluting the water.

        “The river is a natural resource and it's not just here for a few of us.”

        Mr. Fiedeldey and his grown children joined Friends; his daughter, Dana, is a trustee.

What's in it for them?
        Melissa English, Friends of the Great Miami River coordinator, said the group hopes to move fairly quickly because of development pressure hitting western Hamilton County. They plan to work with developers as well as existing property owners to get what they want.

        “It's all a matter of doing it one person at a time, whether that's with a property owner along the river or a (government) agency,” she said. “You have to be able to illustrate what's in it for people because not everyone has the same goals as a river preservation group.”

        Friends will follow in the footsteps of Little Miami Inc., a 32-year-old river advocacy organization with about 600 members. About 40 percent of the length of the 100-mile Little Miami River now has some sort of protection, either as part of a public park or with a conservation easement on private land.

        Executive Director Eric B. Partee said Little Miami Inc. has worked well with developers, public officials and residents. The key to success is communication — and patience.

        “There will be those people that don't want to do anything, that don't want to work with you at any given time, and those that do. And the trick is to be there to take advantage when people are ready. Over time, you begin to see these areas accumulate,” he said. “To save a river is not a quick process.”


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