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Communities working on flooding problems

1/23/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Ariel Hakim

GREATER AKRON — Three communities in the southwest portion of Summit County are making headway on a plan to resolve flooding issues on a regional basis.

Copley Township and the cities of Barberton and Norton are planning to file a petition with the Summit County Court of Common Pleas to become a part of an existing watershed conservancy district, or form their own.

More than a year-and-a-half ago, officials from the three communities began meeting to work on mitigating flooding problems together, according to Copley Trustee Helen Humphrys.

They ended up hiring a consultant, Jim Rozelle of Storm Water Engineering, to work up a plan. So far, each of the three communities has paid $2,500 to have Rozelle do initial work needed to create a conservancy district or join an already existing one. A watershed conservancy district would be run by a board of directors of nongovernment officials to implement solutions to relieve flooding, Humphrys said.

Those solutions could include a number of improvements, such as the construction of detention and retention basins, establishing wetlands and building floodwalls, among other things.

A watershed is the area of land where rain and snowmelt drains to a particular stream, river, lake or pond, according to Copley officials. Three major watersheds exist in Summit County, with the Tuscarawas watershed making up much of the southern part of the county, Humphrys said.

Several tributaries feed into the Tuscarawas River as it flows to the Muskingum River and ultimately to the Ohio River, according to township officials.

The boundaries of a potential conservancy district are still being determined, according to Barberton Mayor William Judge, and officials from Barberton, Copley and Norton are calling their plan the Wolf Creek Watershed Conservancy District.

To the south of the communities in question is the successful Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD), in place since 1933, that comes up to the edge of Summit County, said Humphrys.

Barberton, Norton and Copley officials are trying to determine whether the best plan of action would be to form a subregion of the MWCD or create their own.

Some of Barberton is already a part of the MWCD, said Judge, and his city’s residents already pay $5 a month for a stormwater utility fee. Judge doesn’t want to see residents get double-taxed if a new conservancy district is formed, he added.

Positive effects of forming a conservancy district could reach other communities in Summit County, as well as help some in Medina County, according to Humphrys.

There is talk of coordinating with some communities in Medina County to form a conservancy district, which would involve also petitioning the Medina County Court of Common Pleas, said Judge.

“This has been an issue for around 100 years, and it affects us all,” said Judge. “The only way to really address it is from a regional standpoint. Once this gets moving, other communities may get on board.”

“We’ve not heard anything yet, positive or negative,” from the public about whether they think creating a conservancy district is a good idea or not, said Humphrys.

To fund projects in the district, property owners would be assessed $3 a month per benefitting property, she said.

Forming the district would, however, open the doors for federal and state grant funding, she added.

In Copley, the Little Farms area off Collier Road in the eastern part of the township is a major problem area, according to Humphrys. The ground is mostly muck, causing water to back up and flood the area.

“We need to find places where we can store water and let it release slowly and naturally,” she said. “We could see an impact in about 14 months,” once a conservancy district is formed, she said.

Homes should never have been built in the Little Farms area, Humphrys said. To relieve some of the township’s worst flooding issues, the properties there could be purchased and the area restored to wetlands, she added. When water backs up there, flooding is far-reaching, she said.

“When homes flood, we have a problem,” she said.

Holding water in Little Farms could also positively impact Copley’s neighbors, according to Judge.

Copley trustees passed a resolution of support for forming the Wolf Creek Watershed Conservancy District in December, followed by Barberton City Council, which approved a similar ordinance last week.

The next step, according to Judge and Humphrys, is for Norton officials to take similar action.

While some of the pieces of this are already in place, a well-defined plan needs to outline where and why flooding occurs in the three communities before a petition can be submitted, which still may take some time, said Judge.

Ultimately, once a petition is submitted, one or more Common Pleas Court judges would determine whether or not a conservancy district is established, and would not go on the ballot for voters to decide, Humphrys noted.

Moving forward, the three communities plan to hold informational meetings to gauge public opinion and educate people about the potential conservancy district, said Humphrys.

“The biggest component of this is education,” she said.

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