Mike DeWine should know that William Judge and colleagues are not exaggerating. The Barberton mayor joined Joe Schultz, the mayor of Canal Fulton, Mike Zita, the mayor of Norton, Al Knack, the mayor of Clinton, Paul Adamson, the mayor of New Franklin, and Helen Humphrys, a Copley Township trustee, in a letter to the governor that they described as “a call to action” in view of the flooding problems affecting parts of Summit and Stark counties. They want to meet with the governor to talk about how the state could be a partner in easing what has been devastating for many households and businesses.
Judge and the others understand this challenge requires a local, or regional, response, more than anything. At the same time, they rightly argue that isn’t enough. The fiscal and bureaucratic muscle of the state is needed.
To do what? The letter cites such steps as dredging the Tuscarawas River and Wolf Creek, plus supporting additional retention and detention projects, all designed to mitigate the flooding. What the governor shouldn’t miss is that the wreckage this time, and six years ago during a similar episode, invite comparison to areas sent disaster relief.
It is that bad.
More, a greater role for the state would fit into the governor’s thinking about routing state resources to address specific local needs. For instance, his budget plan targets funding for overwhelmed children services. It also proposes the state cover a larger share of the expense for legal counsel to represent indigent defendants.
For its part, Barberton, along with other cities, charges residents a fee to maintain and upgrade the stormwater system. As the letter informs the governor, local resources have been routed to improvements, for example, Barberton increasing its retention pond capacity. Officials explain that as a result, the recent flooding was less ruinous than the floods of 2013, the water draining more quickly. Barberton has plans to add retention ponds and storm sewers.
Part of that upgrade includes neighboring Norton siting a retention pond within its borders. That is the kind of cooperation and coordination required. As it often is said, water knows no political boundaries. A community’s prevention efforts are only as good as those next door, or even farther away.
The difficulty has been achieving the necessary cooperation and coordination, even with many communities hit by flooding in recent years. That explains the appeal of the proposal advanced by the Summit County Charter Review Commission — to create an eight-member Storm Water Management Commission to drive a comprehensive county response to chronic flooding.
Ilene Shapiro, the county executive, and a majority of County Council members appear inclined to support an ordinance rather than amend the charter. That is understandable, up to a point. After all, for more than two decades, county officials have had a framework for action. Yet they have spun their wheels. A charter amendment — approved by voters — may provide more impetus to get something constructive accomplished.
No doubt, there are steep political challenges in seeking to herd so many communities. Add that a single county cannot solve the entire problem. Better to work within natural watersheds, though such an approach carries complications, too. What seems plain is that a county acting as one rates better than what Summit County now has, a fragmented approach that does little to bring improvement.
Even more productive would be the state finding a path to providing more assistance. That is the reasonable request of Mayor Judge and colleagues. In an era of mounting climate change, the rains are likely to get heavier. Barberton and other communities deserve a concerted effort to gain more protection.