December 21, 2014

Elyria
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Plan to clean up Brentwood Lake swamp gets bogged down

ELYRIA — A proposal to clean the swamp at the former Brentwood Lake bogged down Wednesday over questions of cost and property ownership.

A section of what was formerly the lake in Brentwood Lake is overgrown earlier this year.

A section of what was formerly the lake in Brentwood Lake is overgrown earlier this year.

“We have to find a solution to this problem,” Berry Taylor, a Carlisle Township trustee, told about 30 residents who live around the swamp at a meeting at the Lorain County Administration Building. “We want to get on to what can we do to make it a better place in the future.”

The dam that created the man-made lake in Carlisle Township was removed in 2010, draining the lake per order of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources because of flooding concerns. The neighborhood around it includes Edgewood Drive, Lakewood Drive and state Route 57.

Problems dated back to 1999 when developer Alan Spitzer — the developer whose family built the 200-home subdivision approximately 60 years ago — was ordered by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to fix the leaking lake. He never did, resulting in fish kills, and its drainage has turned the lake bed into a swamp infested with mosquitoes, mice, raccoons and rats.

“The mosquitoes will eat you alive,” said Richard Bokanyi, of 6 Grover Court, before the one-hour meeting. “It’s really sad.”

Bokanyi, a retired veterinarian, told Taylor that rodents may bite someone, infecting him with rabies, and mosquito infections could spread West Nile virus, an occasionally fatal illness that increased 533 percent in Ohio between 2011 and 2012.

“We’re dealing with a real serious problem,” he said. “It’s not just homeowners. It’s going to be a community problem (for) Carlisle Township and Grafton.”

Taylor proposed extending surrounding owners’ property lines into the middle of the former lake bed. “This would allow you to have control of that property and to maintain it however you want,” he said.

However, many residents were reluctant to support the proposal and said they want Spitzer to pay for the cleanup. Residents say he owns the property while Spitzer says the now-defunct Brentwood Homeowners Association owns it. The association unsuccessfully sued Spitzer, also under fire by Lorain officials for failing to maintain the former Spitzer Plaza hotel in Lorain.

Sarah Ann Overs of 41 Lakeview Drive told county officials at the meeting that while she doesn’t share it, the perception of many residents is that county officials have shown favoritism to Spitzer. The perception is from Spitzer being represented by attorney Anthony Giardini, who is also Lorain County Democratic Party chairman, in the heavily Democratic county. Giardini, who also represents the Lorain Board of Education, didn’t return a call Wednesday night.

Residents’ frustrations with Spitzer partially stem from warnings to his family about building the lake that dated back to the Truman administration.

“It might be well to point out that one of the common and disastrous mistakes in the building of a small pond and lake is to have too much land area dredging into the lake. A large drainage area greatly increases the cost of the spillway structure, the rate of sedimentation and the cost of maintaining the pond in good condition,” Earl Sanderson, a U.S. Department of Interior hydrologist, wrote John Spitzer in 1950. “If you have had no experience in the construction of ponds, it is suggested that you consult someone experienced in the field of work.”

The federal government now recommends against restoring the dam. Overs read a Monday email from Dan Bogoevski, an environmental specialist with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Division of Surface Water, recommending stream and wetland restoration.

Overs clashed with Taylor after she recommended the township use eminent domain to take over the property and questioned why Spitzer would need to agree to a homeowner takeover if he doesn’t own the property.

“You want everybody else to take care of your problem,” Taylor said.

“I want you to do your job,” Overs said.

Gerald Innes, an assistant county prosecutor, expressed frustration with residents over disputing ownership with Spitzer since 2006. He warned them that suing Spitzer again would lead to countersuits, costing between $20,000 and $30,000 for each homeowner.

“You wants us to start something, we’ll start it, but get out your pocketbook,” he said. “And then you don’t know if you’re going to win.”

While many residents said Spitzer should pay cleanup costs, Rob Forrer, of 169 Brentview Drive, disagreed. He suggested residents form a new homeowners association and limited liability company and share costs.

“Spitzer’s interest is long gone. He doesn’t care,” Forrer said. “We can’t afford to sue him.”

Taylor asked residents to consider the extended property lines proposal and said another meeting will be in August after costs were estimated.

“Think of solutions instead of negativity,” he said.

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.