Kathy Antoniotti

NEW FRANKLIN: The mud was so deep it sucked the boots right off the feet of R.B. Stout landscaping employees as they set plants in a $237,000 stormwater demonstration system near City Hall.

Although the project won’t be completed for several months, it’s ready to offer relief to homes with flooding problems, Mayor Al Bollas said.

“Stormwater runoff causes massive flooding for homeowners downstream of City Hall as it flows to Turkeyfoot Lake,” Bollas said.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency awarded New Franklin a $186,800 grant to fund the construction of a “treatment train” — an innovative way to remove pollutants, detain the water and control the speed with which it flows to the lake a mile and a half away.

To be eligible, the cities chosen for the grant must share information with other Ohio cities, contractors and residents.

With a $50,000 match from New Franklin, the grant, one of 12 the Ohio EPA awarded statewide in 2013, was offered to help communities restore waterways that have been impaired by runoff from stormwater.

The drop in elevation between City Hall on Manchester Road and Turkeyfoot Lake of 200 feet is about 25 feet greater than the average drop of Niagara Falls, Bollas said.

The natural path of stormwater runoff flows past City Hall and into the neighborhood near the Catalina Ditch. Basements there flood about twice a year, the mayor said.

“The detention basin will slow down the water and control silt build up as well,” Bollas said.

Homes on Woodward, Sherwood Forest and Valley Crest drives are the most affected, he said.

Stormwater pollutants

Stormwater, caused by rainfall or snowmelt flowing over and through the ground, carries with it natural and human-made pollutants and delivers them into lakes, rivers, wetlands and ground waters, as well as into homes.

At first glance, residents will notice the system looks different than the usual stormwater controls people are accustomed to seeing that can include huge metal pipes and concrete catch basins.

The project area will be aesthetically pleasing, planted with native Ohio grasses and plants that have roots systems that reach deep into the soil to encourage absorption and filtration of pollutants, said landscape architect Jeff Kerr, a partner at Environmental Design Group.

“What we call this is a ‘green infrastucture.’ That’s the term that we use for these natural systems,” said Kerr who designed the project and submitted the grant application.

“We let nature do a lot of the stuff that we typically would do with what we used to call ‘gray infrastructure,’ which is the pipes and water treatment plants,” he said.

This system is a more cost-effective way to manage stormwater while maintaining a pleasing, natural-looking feature, he said.

Best practices

The project is made up of three “best management practices,” to intercept stormwater, strip it of pollutants, slow down its flow and lessen the volume of water that leaves the wetland, Kerr said.

A section of a new parking lot is made of porous paving blocks that allow water to percolate through a gravel base and into the ground. A bioswale made of a sand and compost mixture lets roots of flood- and drought-resistant grasses and plants, such as purple coneflowers and black-eyed Susans, keep the soil from compacting and traps pollutants. Stormwater also will flow into a constructed stormwater wetland that will drain “thousands of acres in the neighborhood,” said Kerr, slowing down both flow and volume before the water continues on its natural path to the lake.

By the time water gets to this point, pollutants and suspended solids are removed by 60 to 80 percent or more, Kerr said.

“This will be a key opportunity for other communities around Northeast Ohio to see how New Franklin did it,” he said.

For the most part, the project will be wrapped up by the end of November, with full completion by spring, said Mark Kochheiser, zoning and grants coordinator for the city.

Kochheiser said the city needs about two dozen volunteers Saturday to set more than 200 water-loving plants around the perimeter of the project.

“We will be planting from 10 a.m. to noon. Volunteers are asked to meet at City Hall and bring their boots, gloves and tools for planting,” he said.

As part of the grant agreement, the city will hold an open house and workshop next spring to show other Northeast Ohio cities and local business and property owners how green projects can be incorporated into their landscapes. Next summer, officials will invite contractors to a half-day workshop and a demonstration, Kerr said.

Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or kantoniotti@thebeaconjournal.com.