Mill Creek MetroParks has joined with other park districts across the state in opposing a provision in the proposed state budget that pertains to oil and gas drilling.

House Bill 49, which passed the Ohio House of Representatives and is now going through Senate committees, allows public entities such as park districts to be placed in an oil and gas “unit,” which joins together a combination of land tracts for the purpose of drilling.

A section of the bill states that “… an applicant that has the assent of the owners of at least 65 percent of the land area overlying a pool or a part of a pool may submit an application for the operation as a unit of the entire pool or part of the pool.”

That has alarmed many park districts.

“This essentially means that it is possible for a public entity [including a park] to be placed in a unit against its will – if enough adjacent property owners agree to be part of the unit,” wrote Woody Woodward, Ohio Parks and Recreation Association executive director.

While the bill exempts state parks and nature preserves, it currently does not exempt park districts such as Mill Creek MetroParks that are governed by Ohio Revised Code Chapter 1545.

Woodward’s group is seeking an exemption for those park districts. In a letter to park board members across the state, the OPRA urged park districts to lobby state senators.

Mill Creek MetroParks Executive Director Aaron Young said park officials support OPRA’s position.

“The MetroParks has been fairly consistent, in my time here and even before my time here, in not having any interest in drilling underneath the MetroParks land. We feel it’s appropriate for the same exclusions that are applied to state parks to be applied to the 1545 park districts,” Young said.

MetroParks officials have been in touch with state Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, D-33rd, on the matter.

Schiavoni will submit an amendment to remove that provision of the budget bill.

He said his office has received a number of phone calls, emails and letters on the matter, and on Tuesday he spoke with concerned residents from Geauga County.

Schiavoni said he agrees with opponents of the amendment, saying, “There are plenty of places in this state to drill for oil and gas. We don’t need to be drilling in parks.”

A list of proposed budget amendments will be submitted to the Senate Finance Committee chairman next week. The Senate Majority Caucus then will review those amendments and decide which ones to include in the Senate’s version of the bill.

The version of the budget bill on which the Senate will vote is expected to be ready June 12.