By Wayne Allen
Included in House Bill (H.B) 497, Ohio’s 2015-16 Capital Budget, is an allocation of $250,000 for Scioto County to install a campgrounds in Earl Thomas Conley Park in West Portsmouth. There have been some recent concerns about the potential campgrounds from local business owners that have reached out to State Representative Dr. Terry Johnson and State Senator Joe Uecker.
“In December of last year (2013), the Scioto County Commissioners requested that money for camp sites at the Earl Thomas Conley Park be put into the Capital Budget. Since then, we have heard concerns from private camp owners in Scioto County that this would directly compete with their business. The commissioners have said they didn’t have time to properly vet the issue before the application deadline, but they still have time to do so,” Johnson said in a released statement. “This state money will not be officially spent until Scioto County puts up their share of the funding, which is a significant amount of money. So I strongly encourage the commissioners to do the proper studies, surveys, and that they do their due diligence with the local campground owners. The bill passed today (Wednesday, March 26) makes this local option available to them, but in the end, it will be up to Scioto County to give the overall project the thumbs up or thumbs down. I am 100 percent in favor of bringing state resources to our community wherever feasible; we just need to make sure those resources are not hurting our private citizens. Free enterprise should be facilitated by state government, not impeded.”
When asked to respond to the remarks by Johnson, Scioto County Commissioner Mike Crabtree said, “every time a restaurant is built or anything else, it may or may not have some effect on another business for the short term. The long term effects is it attracts additional people to the community who spends more money which helps other businesses. The reality is (Scioto County Commissioner) Doug (Coleman) or I are not going to get a dime out of this. They are trying to say we’re (Scioto County) here to compete with other campgrounds, but you have to look at the difference in what you provide.”
Coleman said, once installed, this would be the only one that would have access the Ohio River.
“We’re wanting to build 40 to 50 campsites down there. People are going to have friends that have boats that will want to dock and if the Earl Thomas Conley Park is filled up they may go to the Lazy Village and camp,” Coleman said.
Coleman said if anything the installation of campgrounds at Earl Thomas Conley Park will help other campgrounds and businesses in that area.
“I would hate to see this money go some place else, when we could use the money in Scioto County,” Coleman said. “That’s what’s wrong with Scioto County right now, everybody works against one another. It’s got to stop, we all have to work together, if we don’t work together we’re not going to accomplish anything,” Coleman said.
Crabtree agreed with Coleman in the notion of working together.
“If we keep shuffling businesses out of the county and we keep deterring any progress at all, whether it be county campgrounds or any another business. We can sit around here and say we’re not going to allow any more businesses in Portsmouth because we have enough. The reality is Portsmouth doesn’t have enough businesses, we don’t have enough stuff for people to do when they get here,” Crabtree said. “We don’t have enough stuff for tourists, they come here and we have one attraction the murals. They come down look at the murals, hop in the car and take off.”
When asked if the commissioners have determined how they are going to pay the local match to the state funds, Crabtree said, “we’re applying for some ARC (Appalachian Regional Commission) money and we (Scioto County) do have some money that’s been set aside in a separate account.”
Crabtree said they could use the money they received from the sale of property to SOMC in 2013.
“We could fight one another, but if all I’m selling is beans and someone wants spaghetti they’re going to go to the next restaurant,” Crabtree said.
State Senator Joe Uecker said he concurs with Johnson’s statements, the government should not be in the business of competing with local businesses.
“I’ve been watching the issue unfold and I concur with Representative Johnson’s request (to the commissioners), but I also agree with his concern. The question really comes down to, whether or not this particular facility (campgrounds) would compete with the private with the private sector,” Uecker said.
Uecker said his office doing a survey of local campgrounds asking if they the campgrounds would compete with theirs.
“This particular grounds would be the only one that have access to the (Ohio) river. It will serve a portion of recreational users that need or want access to the river. That’s business that’s not going to (West) Portsmouth. I agree with the commissioners in the respect that from a marketing viewpoint, this (proposed campground) will appeal to a different clientele,” Uecker said. “Did they do their due diligence to come to that conclusion is the question everyone is asking and that’s what representative Johnson and I are asking of the commissioners.”
Uecker said if all of those questions are answered, he would be in favor of voting for the funding.
“I agree with Rep. Johnson, I do not want the government to ever compete with local private enterprise,” Uecker said.
Uecker said H.B. 497 will likely come before the senate in the coming weeks for a vote.
Wayne Allen can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 228 or on Twitter @WayneallenPDT.