LORAIN — Standing on Whispering Pines Place on a sunny Tuesday, it was hard to imagine that residents were waist deep in water two months earlier.
When a May 12 thunderstorm dropped up to 5 inches of rain on Lorain County in five hours, about 3 feet of water flooded the cul-de-sac off Cooper Foster Road.
Basements and cars flooded, causing thousands of dollars of damage.
Longtime residents like Debbie Alicia, who moved into her home in 1999, said it was the worst flooding they’d experienced.
“The only cars leaving will be floating out,” Alicia joked ruefully as she filmed the flooding on her phone that night.
Whispering Pines and the streets around it are near Martin’s Run Creek. Lorain officials said the watershed, which runs south of Tower Boulevard along state Route 2 and drains into Lake Erie, is the most flood-prone area of Lorain.
For 20 years, officials have been trying to alleviate the flooding.
“We want to solve this problem,” then-Mayor Tony Krasienko said in 2011 when City Council approved a $300,000 flood prevention study. “We don’t want to leave it for the next generation.”
Lorain had been planning a project running about 1½ miles from West 35th Street to Oberlin Avenue for this summer. Officials planned to spend up to $2 million to dredge about 3 feet of sediment that had built up in a 12-foot-by-6-foot culvert constructed in 1995 to mitigate flooding. A $2 per month sewer rate increase that took effect in 2013, raising $528,000 annually, was approved to help pay for dredging.
But the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has significantly scaled back dredging plans. City Engineer Dale Vandersommen told Council on July 6 that the Ohio EPA is only permitting 6 inches to a foot to be dredged. Council approved seeking bids of up to $75,000 for the work.
Linda Oros, an EPA spokeswoman, said last week that the creek is designated a “warm water habitat” by the agency and rainbow trout have been spotted there. Substantial dredging could reduce water quality and affect fish and other aquatic life in the area. Oros said the flooding is due to over development. Vandersommen wrote in an email last week that homes were built “dangerously close” to the creek in the 1960s and Council in 2004 approved ordinances requiring a 75-foot setback from the ordinary high mark of the creek. Oros said the more dredging that is done, the more erosion will occur, with property owners losing land to the stream over time.
“It seems like a good short-term solution, but in the long run, the stream is still going to be there and it’s going to continue to have to have a place to go,” she said. “It’s going to continue to forge its way through, and that’s going to create a problem.”
Nonetheless, Whispering Pines resident Wayne Ross said the state EPA is wrong to restrict dredging.
Ross said he’s an outdoorsman who respects the environment but believes more should be done to reduce flooding and questions the agency’s priorities.
“Isn’t the EPA supposed to protect us, too?” he asked. “They’re more concerned with turtles and frogs and pollywogs.”
Ross, whose backyard is next to the culvert, moved into his home in 1983 when there were far fewer homes. He said he never experienced flooding until 2011. Ross blames overdevelopment, a lack of foresight by city planners, intensified storms due to climate change and a lack of storm water drains for flooding.
Ross said his basement has flooded three times in three years. Ross said he twice had to fly in from Florida, where he and his wife live six months of the year, to deal with flooding.
Ross said insurance covered the thousands of dollars worth of repairs. However, Ross, a former Clearview Schools superintendent, principal and track coach, said he lost irreplaceable pictures and memorabilia.
Ross said he cuts vegetation by the culvert on his property and tries to keep the drains on the street clean, although his dual residency limits his efforts. Ross said he’d like to see more drains installed in the cul-de-sac, which has four.
Vandersommen said neighbors haven’t requested more drains from the city, but he’d be willing to explore the idea.
Vandersommen said Lorain is planning a combination of limited dredging, building retention ponds and possibly widening the creek, which might require purchasing property. He said Lorain and county officials have discussed regional flood mitigation projects, but nothing has been finalized.
Oros said the state EPA favors a collaborative approach. She said Lorain officials need to form a watershed group and devise a comprehensive, regional plan that respects the creek.
“The water always wins,” she said. “The water’s not going away.”