Three Summit County communities want to curtail repeated flooding in the Wolf Creek watershed, and nearly 41,000 property owners in 10 municipalities from Akron into Medina County would help pay the bill.
Barberton, Norton and Copley Township are supporting establishment of a watershed conservancy district that would stretch from Highland Square in Akron west into Medina County.
Barberton Mayor William Judge is expected to petition a Summit County Common Pleas judge this month to approve starting what’s being called the Wolf Creek Watershed Conservancy District.
Norton and Copley are expected to submit supporting resolutions for the new district that has been under discussion for two years.
The petition would ask to establish a panel of judges to act as a Conservancy Court. It would set a time and place for a hearing on the petition and may then, by order, establish the district under Ohio law.
About two years’ time and about $400,000 would be needed to prepare a master plan for how flooding would be reduced along Wolf Creek and its tributaries, said James Stender, utilities director in Barberton, putting full operations sometime in 2016 at the earliest.
A state loan would be sought to prepare such plans, Stender said.
Possible flooding remedies include construction of regional detention and retention basins, establishment of wetlands, channel improvements, bridge and culvert replacements, levee and flood-wall construction, removal of frequently damaged property and reservoir drinking-water protection.
The district would be eligible for federal and state funds for various projects. It could assess property owners within the district for improvements, but it is far too early to determine how much those assessments might be, Stender said.
The possibility of assessments has triggered concern and criticism in some forums, including a recent Norton City Council meeting.
The proposed district would encompass all or parts of 10 municipalities around Wolf Creek, Hudson Run and Pigeon Creek: the cities of Barberton, Norton, Akron, Fairlawn and Wadsworth, and Copley, Bath, Wadsworth, Sharon and Granger townships. The area covers 49,604 acres, or 77.5 square miles, in the two counties.
An estimated 34,807 property owners live within the proposed watershed’s boundary in Summit County, with another 6,165 in Medina County.
There are 20 active watershed districts in Ohio. There have been as many as 57.
The proposed district would be similar to the 18-county Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District, the largest in Ohio. It stretches from Akron to the Ohio River.
Wolf Creek watershed drains to the Ohio River via the Tuscarawas and Muskingum rivers, but it is not within the legal jurisdictional area of the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District.
New approach needed
Such a new, regional approach is needed because individual communities cannot halt the severe flooding that has occurred along Wolf Creek, Stender said.
There was severe flooding along the stream in July, and a consultant working for the three communities has identified 15 flooding trouble spots in the watershed.
The watershed plan came together earlier this year — before the most recent floods, Stender said.
“This is one event in a long history of chronic flooding and water resource-management problems in this watershed that have not been resolved to date, primarily because the solutions require watershed-wide cooperation and coordination,” the three communities said in a flier about the proposal.
The communities have made repeated efforts to solve flooding problems internally, but the new initiative would “provide the coordination and the means to establish a local-funding source to mitigate these flooding problems,” according to the flier.
James Rozelle of Storm Water Engineering LLC, based in Centerville, said he was surprised by the repeated heavy flooding that has been recorded along Wolf Creek.
Incidents in the past 10 years include major flooding in May 2004, July 2007, February 2008, March, July and August 2009, May and October 2010, July 2011 and July 2013, he said.
Rozelle said that earlier events in April 1994, June and July 1995 and December 1996 could be documented among 19 major floods along Wolf Creek in the past 30 to 40 years.
It appears the watershed experiences a major flood every two years now, said Rozelle, who began working as a consultant for the three communities about five months ago.
“The bottom line is that these communities cannot solve the flooding problem on their own,” he said. “There’s just too much water coming into the communities, and a regional approach is needed to solve this problem.”
Stender said discussions with other communities within the proposed district have not occurred, but Barberton, Norton and Copley are optimistic that all will want to join as partners.
Regardless, such approval is not required. The court can establish the district without individual municipalities agreeing, or a public vote.
Fees not exorbitant
How much the Wolf Creek Watershed Conservancy District might assess property owners “is unlikely to be a big amount of money,” Stender said.
Property owners in the Muskingum district pay a yearly assessment —added to property tax bills — of about $12 a year for a typical residential property. Those with more paved surfaces, like parking lots, pay higher assessments.
Muskingum’s assessment, which raises about $11 million a year, was approved in August 2007. Among the 500,000 affected property owners are nearly 26,000 in Summit County, 136,000 in Stark and 16,000 in Wayne.
The 2015 assessment on property owners might be lowered because of the money the Muskingum district is making from Utica shale leases and royalties.
Norton Mayor Mike Zita said the proposed Wolf Creek Watershed Conservancy District appears to be the best way to proceed.
“I’m not going to say this is my way, but it is a way that certainly needs to be looked at. I don’t know what we can do on a city level to start correcting problems,” he said.
Water from Copley and Akron floods Norton, which in turn sends floodwaters into Barberton, Zita said.
“Once the level of the water gets to the city, it’s too late. It needs to be taken care of and addressed before it gets here,” the mayor said. “It’s about the flow of the water.”
Staff writer Dave Scott and correspondent Bruce Griffin contributed to this report. Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or email@example.com.