December 22, 2014

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Lorain County officials reject land donation for water retention basin

ED BETZEL/CHRONICLE GRAPHIC

ED BETZEL/CHRONICLE GRAPHIC

COLUMBIA TWP. — Lorain County officials have turned down an offer from former county commissioner Mary Jo Vasi to donate five parcels of land she owns in the northeast portion of the township to help with flooding in the Parkwood Drive area.

Vasi offered the land to the county in a May 31 letter, with the stipulation that if a water retention basin were built that it be named after her late husband, Joe Vasi.

She said she was surprised last month when she received a letter from county Administrator Jim Cordes declining the offer.

“I was disappointed on behalf of the people,” Vasi said.

Cordes said the county couldn’t use the land Vasi was offering because it wasn’t contiguous and was too small for a water retention basin.

“It’s two small lots in the middle of nowhere,” he said. “You don’t just plop a retention basin down on a piece of land.”

The land is inaccessible because a street, called Glenwood Avenue, was supposed to be constructed there but never was built.

Assistant County Prosecutor Gerald Innes said Vasi tried last year to convince the county to build the road, but the county wasn’t going to foot the bill. He said neighboring residents could band together to pay for the street.

“It’s basically a petition process,” Innes said. “You would have to assess the property owners to pay for it.”

Vasi said once she realized the road was not going to be built, there was no reason for her to keep paying taxes on the land or the fees for a sewer that was built there, but isn’t in use. She said she is aware of flooding issues in the area and thought her land might help homeowners.

“I realized these people need help,” she said.

Columbia Township trustees Mike Musto and Dick Heidecker both said they were behind Vasi’s offer to donate the land for flood control and didn’t understand the county’s decision to turn down the offer.

Heidecker said the land owned by Vasi is in a flood plain, and could never be used for construction of a home. “Having the water basin would help control the flood problems,” Heidecker said.

After heavy rains in the spring, three houses on Parkwood Drive were heavily damaged, Musto said. He also said a nearby creek can’t be made any deeper because of the geography in the area, which leaves creating someplace for the water to go the best solution.

“The only choice we have is to put a retention basin upstream,” he said, adding that he believes other property owners in the area who have land they can’t use would probably be willing to donate their property to fix the problem.

Musto said it surprised him that the commissioners declined the donation without surveying the land first.

“They could have at least done a study,” Musto said.

Cordes said he discussed Vasi’s offer individually with the three county commissioners and they all indicated they were concerned about the liability of the county taking ownership of the land without a reason to use it.

He also said that if Columbia Township wants to accept the donation and work toward getting grants or other funding to build a retention basin, the county would work with the township on the project.

Musto said he believes flood control is the responsibility of the county’s Storm Water Management District, which township residents pay annual fees to fund. He said he intends to take the issue to a meeting of that organization later this week.

Vasi said she thinks the commissioners should have discussed their reasons for declining her offer during a public meeting, although Commissioner Tom Williams said he looked at the decision as an administrative issue that didn’t rise to the level of requiring a public hearing.

Vasi also said she’s hopeful that something can be done to stop flooding in the area.

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way to help people,” she said.

Reporter Melissa Linebrink contributed to this story.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter @BradDickenCT.