Driehaus Plans Budget Meeting

Fresh from a successful effort at stopping a budget amendment to block the replacement of a deteriorating Cincinnati bridge, State Rep. Denise Driehaus (D-31st District) will hold a town hall meeting to discuss the Ohio budget with constituents.

Driehaus marshaled forces in the Ohio House this week after she noticed an amendment that affected the $66.5 million project had quietly been added to the state budget bill by State Rep. Bob Peterson (R-85th District).—-

Peterson's amendment would've blocked state funding for the Waldvogel Memorial Viaduct, also known as the Sixth Street Viaduct, unless Cincinnati officials let one of Peterson's constituents, David Martin, build a large barge terminal along the Ohio River in East Price Hill. After Driehaus publicized the amendment, the House unanimously voted to remove it from the bill.

Work on the crumbling viaduct is scheduled to begin next month. It was built in 1940 and underwent some repairs in 1995, but currently is ranked as the bridge in the poorest condition in Southwest Ohio.

The House approved a $55.6 billion, two-year budget Thursday in a 59-40 vote along party lines. The measure now goes to the Ohio Senate; a state budget must be approved by June 30.

Driehaus will hold a town hall meeting from 7-8 p.m. May 12 to discuss the spending plan. It will be held at Carson School, 4323 Glenway Ave., in Price Hill. Paul Kostyu, of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel (OCC), will make a presentation at the session.

The 31st House District includes western Cincinnati as well as Cheviot, Addyston, Cleves, and North Bend.

The proposed budget includes a 51.3 percent cut to the Consumers' Counsel, which serves as the state advocate for more than 4.5 million residential utility customers. The cut's size is far larger than the average budget reduction of 5 percent for all other state agencies in the first year and a 1.4 percent increase in the second year.

Also, the OCC dislikes several amendments that it believes will hinder its ability to advocate for the most affordable utility rates. Specifically, the amendments prohibit the OCC from taking positions in support of the lowest costs with respect to natural gas rates, and removes the OCC’s contact information from customer billing notices.

Peterson's unsuccessful amendment came after a jury in March rejected most claims in a lawsuit filed against the city over the Martin's stalled Queensgate Terminals project. Martin sued after the city bought the 13-acre site in 2007 and ultimately blocked his plans based on complaints from residents in the Price Hill, Sedamsville and Riverside neighborhoods.

Martin wanted to open a container-to-barge port there to transport soybeans, but neighbors worried about increased truck traffic in the area. Martin had sought $4.2 million in damages, but jurors awarded him only $667,000. Martin wanted to open the port at the former Hilltop Basic Resources parcel at 1911 River Road, but city officials questioned the plan’s viability.

Martin owns Bluegrass Farms, also known as Precision Seed Co., which operates a large bulk processing facility for grain and seeds in Jeffersonville, primarily handling soybeans. The proposed Cincinnati terminal would help ship Martin's products.

Martin's attorney is W. Stuart Dornette, who also represents the Bengals. The terminal project's biggest supporter on City Council was Jeff Berding, who is the Bengals' sales and marketing director. He resigned from council earlier this year.

Peterson lives in Fayette County, the same area where Martin's business is located. Along with his brother, Peterson operates an 1,800-acre farm that produces corn, soybeans, wheat, and livestock. He was heavily backed by the Ohio Chamber of Commerce in his state campaign.