Four mayors and a township trustee have joined Barberton Mayor Bill Judge in an effort to convince Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine that a solution to southern Summit County’s flooding problems is needed now.
In a June 20 letter, Judge requests a meeting between DeWine and leaders of local municipalities affected by flooding.
“We need immediate help,” the letter reads in bold italic words.
Judge said Monday night after the Barberton City Council meeting that he believes DeWine might be receptive to the request.
“[This] governor has a better understanding of local needs than previous governors,” Judge said.
The mayors of Norton, Clinton, New Franklin, Canal Fulton (Stark County), and Copley Township Trustee Helen Humphrys all signed the petition.
In it, Judge argues that the city and region’s efforts to constrain flood damage requires state-level assistance. Projects mentioned include dredging the Tuscarawas River and Wolf Creek, infrastructure improvements and more retention and detention areas.
Judge told council on Monday that hundreds of homes and businesses in southern Summit County were affected by last week’s flooding.
One of the oldest victims, the Slovene Party Center on 14th Street Northwest and the society that runs it, are reeling after floodwaters covered its bowling lanes and bar and left behind a layer of sludge that ruined the lanes. Damage to the bar also was extensive.
The society was celebrating its centennial with a historical display less than two weeks before the flooding occurred.
Judy Hauser, a former employee of the Slovene Party Center who is friends with Slovene Society board member Clem Hornacek and his wife, Lucille, said Tuesday that the large hall at the center will remain open. But not so for the flooded areas.
“The bowling alley will never open again,” Hauser said. “You can’t replace those. That’s thousands of dollars.”
Hauser, who was at the party center helping to clean up on Tuesday, said the society is trying to decide what course of action to take. She estimates it will take “a good month” to clean areas covered in sludge.
The center’s significance to Barberton and Ohio is marked by an Ohio Historical Society plaque bolted to the side of the brick center in 2004.
“In 1918, early Slovene immigrants organized the Slovenian Independent Society Home and later constructed this hall ...” the plaque begins.
Judge said in an email on Monday that the prospect of losing Slovene Party Center facilities would be a loss for the city.
“There is so much history and positiveness with these clubs … ” Judge said. “They helped build Barberton. I have been working with their board for several years now and will continue to do everything we can to help them and other organizations out.”
Helping out for the long haul by preventing flooding won’t come cheap or easy. The flooding issue has been tackled time and again with varying degrees of success.
Even flood insurance is difficult or impossible for residents and businesses to get. If it is available, the cost is beyond the means of many homeowners.
Norton Administrator Robert Fowler said Tuesday that Mayor Mike Zita signed on to Judge’s letter in the hope that an effective solution can be reached that will benefit all local communities prone to flooding.
Fowler said that Norton’s flooding usually isn’t as extensive as Barberton’s, but the two cities have been working behind the scenes to ameliorate the problem. He cited a plan for a retention pond in the Norton Acres subdivision as one example. The cities have also requested federal grants.
“While we didn’t get hit nearly as bad as Barberton, Clinton or Canal Fulton, collectively we are in this together,” Fowler said. “We have been working collectively and collaboratively for a while.”
Fowler said Norton businesses suffered in the flooding, although far fewer residents were affected than in Barberton. Still, he said, joining a multi-municipality coalition to petition the governor makes sense for Norton.
“We want to be good neighbors; it’s practical for us to participate,” Fowler said. “Water doesn’t know jurisdictional bounds.”
Judge takes a similar approach in the letter to DeWine.
“This is a regional problem that affects all of us and we’re going to have to address it from that standpoint,” Judge said Monday.
Meanwhile, efforts to help residents staggering from the storm continue.
Last week the city posted resources available to residents whose homes were damaged. At council’s Monday meeting, the mayor reminded residents to file an incident report. Of 100 forms given out, only 15 had been returned, he said. The reports are used to help secure funds for victims.
Also at the council meeting, Councilwoman and mayoral candidate Carla Debevec said a prayer for victims of the flood at the meeting’s opening. On her Facebook page, she has posted a long list of agencies and other sources of assistance for victims.
Steve Brookens, the other mayoral candidate in September’s primary, has organized a fundraiser at the Barberton Speedway this Saturday.
Judge said the governor had responded to a letter from Rep. Tavia Galonski that the state lawmaker sent last week requesting help for flood victims, but he had no details on DeWine's response.
Alan Ashworth can be reached at 330-996-3859. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @newsalanbeaconjournal.