October 24, 2014

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North Ridgeville officials say housing moratorium not a solution to flooding

NORTH RIDGEVILLE — During the May 19 City Council meeting at which dozens of frustrated and upset residents gave legislators an earful about suffering through yet another round of post-storm flooding, some of the loudest applause and cheers were for those proposing a moratorium on homebuilding.

On the surface, that idea seemed to make sense to many who figured the more open land covered by homes or businesses reduces the amount of acreage for absorbing heavy rain.

But city officials say that halting construction wouldn’t do much to ease the repeat episodes of damage to homes that many residents can’t sell or are no longer insured for.

“I empathize with people who have the perception that a moratorium would make sense, but the reality of it is that there are two issues at hand,” City Engineer Scott Wangler said this week.

Homeowners have been besieged by floodwater generated two ways.

The more common is that which comes up through floor drains and can fill basements or ground floors with up to several feet of water.

The other is overland or street flooding that sends water in through windows or doorways.

Water that enters a home through floor drains is tied to sanitary sewers, while surface water comes in by windows or doors is tied to the city’s storm water system.

The most recent flooding to hit the city came after more than four inches of rain fell during a deluge May 12.

Councilwoman Bernadine Butkowski, R-at large, called for a moratorium on homebuilding for at least a year during the contentious May 19 meeting, but that view isn’t shared by some of her fellow Council members.

Ronald Arndt, R-3rd Ward, doesn’t favor a moratorium and prefers an approach that would offer a bigger solution in his view.

“We need all of us … Council, the administration, and department heads to identify major structural changes that need to be made in the city,” Arndt said.

Terry Keenan, R-1st Ward, is also against a city-wide moratorium.

“Why choke off new homebuilding in one part of town when it doesn’t connect (via sewer lines) to the rest of the system and isn’t contributing to storm water or sanitary sewer flooding in Ward 2?” Keenan said.

Keenan represents the western portion of the city that includes major developments such as Meadow Lakes, Waterbury and the Del Webb Pioneer Ridge community.

Keenan said he would consider a partial moratorium in older sections of the city plagued by flooding.

“I’d at least listen to that discussion, but I’d be bound by the engineering of it rather than the emotion of it,” Keenan said.

Given the understandable level of residents’ anger and frustration following the last round of storms, Arndt said, “It’s incumbent on us to push hard and come up with viable solutions. It’s got to be more than lip service.”

The city requires any new home or commercial development to have a storm water management plan, according to Wangler.

That plan includes the digging of detention basins to hold storm water, which is then gradually dispersed into ditches or streams.

Despite the perception that more homes lead to more flooding, that really isn’t the case, Wangler said.

“Developments on their own do increase runoff, but with storm water management and construction of ponds (basins), there is actually less releasing of water than when land was farm fields,” Wangler said. “Building doesn’t contribute any more (water) to existing flooding problems.”

The city has approximately 15 detention basins, many of which have been installed over the past 10 to 15 years to go hand-in-hand with construction of several thousand new homes.

City Council President Kevin Corcoran, R-at large, joined Arndt, Keenan, Butkowski and Safety-Service Director Jeffry Armbruster the week before the flooding for a trip to North Olmsted to check out that city’s two huge underground water detention basins.

“On the surface, it seems like a fabulous option, but despite all that, the severity of the storm was such that they (North Olmsted) still had horrible flooding and hundreds of upset people,” Arndt said.

North Olmsted officials told the North Ridgeville contingent the two big storage basins held more than 2 million gallons of water that otherwise might have wound up in homeowners’ basements.

Such basins could cost $5 million apiece.

“We could spend $10 million for two of them and then what do we say to the Gina-Pitts people if they don’t work,” Corcoran said, referring to one of the city’s perennially hard-hit neighborhoods.

Improvements have been made to the city’s infrastructure over time, but Corcoran realizes they haven’t come fast enough for many homeowners.

Recent discussions among Council, the administration, and consultants have weighed various options for improvements to the city’s storm and sanitary sewer systems.

But convincing frustrated residents to pay for those measures won’t be easy. Keenan believes voters might go for a single infrastructure tax levy offering not only storm and sanitary sewer upgrades, but other needed municipal improvements, including two new long-discussed fire stations.

Keenan said he hasn’t yet considered how large the levy might be or whether it would be a property tax or other measure.

In the meantime, some relief in the form of low-interest loans could be in the offing for the city’s uninsured, flood-ravaged property owners if Gov. John Kasich’s request for a disaster declaration for Lorain County is approved by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.