NORTH CANTON: The people who live near the Zimber Ditch are much like neighbors anywhere. They stop each other on the street to catch up on the latest news — who is getting married, who is expecting a new baby or who is feeling under the weather.
On a recent day, Connie Hiner of Lucille Avenue stopped for a quick chat with neighbor Susan Tovissi of Glenwood Street Southwest, who was out for an afternoon stroll with her grandchild.
The conversation turned to flooding issues when Mayor David Held, who was giving a visitor a tour of the area, stopped to exchange pleasantries with the women who have lived in the neighborhood for decades.
“She lives in flood central,” Tovissi said, motioning to Hiner.
Indeed, Hiner’s immaculate white Cape Cod is surrounded by water when rain and runoff cause Zimber Ditch, next to her property, to overflow its banks. During hard rains, the ditch, built to withstand potential flooding decades ago, can’t handle the volume of water that flows from the north, where rapid business growth and the concrete that accompanies it have helped create the problem.
Several years can pass when the water is contained. Then, as happened three times in 2011, rain and runoff from storm and backed-up sanitary sewers pour into the neighborhoods and nearby Price Park, a popular destination for walkers and families with kids.
When that happens, Hiner’s home might be swamped with up to 5½ feet of water in the basement, she said.
“Then, we live on an island,” she said.
As many as 30 homes are affected by the Zimber Ditch flooding to some degree, Held said.
“We have had flooding issues in this area for more than 30 years,” he said.
Curing the problem, however, might end up destroying a large part of the neighborhood. A collaboration of state, county and local officials have developed a plan to purchase and demolish up to 13 properties that have sustained the worst flood damage in past years.
In March, the Stark County Parks District applied for federal funds awarded to Ohio for damage sustained in Superstorm Sandy in 2012. The Ohio Emergency Management Agency identified properties whose owners have been notified that they are eligible to have their homes purchased with the funds.
“[The properties] are all appraised, taking into consideration that fact that they actually were flooded. So the actual market value is somewhat lowered because of that,” said North Canton Council President Jon Snyder, who was instrumental in developing the plan.
Officials will hold a public meeting at 7 tonight at North Canton Civic Center, 845 W. Maple St., to give residents an update on the funding progress and to talk about plans for North Canton and the county, state Rep. Kirk Schuring, R-Jackson Township, said Tuesday.
“We already have other bigger and better things in the works — not just those affected by the Zimber Ditch but about the entire Nimishillen Watershed,” Schuring said.
Stark County commissioners, representatives from the Stark park district and other local officials will join Schuring to discuss what property owners can expect to happen and a timeline for the program. Those not included in the first round of funding will be advised when officials expect to expand the program, said Snyder, who has represented residents in the Zimber Ditch area for 15 years.
By demolishing as many as 10 homes, slated to begin in early spring, remaining neighbors will be affected in significant ways, Snyder said.
“By eliminating the property and taking the ground back to its natural state, it accomplishes two things: It eliminates potential [insurance] claims and also eliminates the probability of severe flooding by lowering the land and returning it back to its natural ability to operate as a natural flood-retention area,” he said.
Schuring said the program is predicated on a $1.5 million grant application getting final approval at the end of October or early November.
Held said the city has been persistent in its attempt to cure the problem.
“The difference this time is it has been a very collaborative approach. That’s why it has been a success,” he said.
Project costs shared
The project became eligible for the federal grant when local government entities pledged to come up with a 12 percent match. The city will ante up $60,000 from its stormwater budget, Stark County has committed $27,500 for the project and the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District will provide $100,000, Schuring said.
Once a property is purchased, it will belong to the Stark park district, which could use it for trails that adjoin Price Park, Held said.
Snyder is quick to point out that the area was deemed a flood plain long after many of the homes were purchased by current owners and before commercialization brought water runoff to higher levels. Frequently, second-time owners unknowingly purchased homes without being advised they would need to buy flood insurance.
There have been spans of eight to 10 years since the homes were built when no flooding occurred, Snyder said, and property owners enjoyed the waterway rather than feared it.
“There is something majestic about living next to water. It was aesthetically very nice. Unfortunately, water is much like electricity; it really doesn’t take any hostages. It just comes along, and that’s the end of it,” he said.
Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or email@example.com.