Tuesday, June 5, 2012


The Stark County commissioners have been holding a series of community meetings over the last 1-1/2 years.  The meetings are designed to put commissioners in touch with Stark Countians with regard to their most concerns about what Stark County government ought to be doing for them.

Attendance has been sporadic at these sessions, but two of the 20 plus meetings that commissioners have held stand out in that they occurred in Perry Township (30 plus attendees) and North Canton  (about 50 attendees) where both communities suffered devastating floods to area homes in 2011.

Commissioners had to especially be worried about the Perry meeting last June 15th (LINK here for an account of that meeting).  Their primary goal at the time was to convince Stark Countians that they should support a proposed 0.5% sales tax on the upcoming November ballot.

Perryites were very upset about the inadequacies of the Lynch and Clay ditches to handle water from the downpour which resulted in widespread flooding of Perry homes.

And the commissioners (Bernabei, Creighton and Ferguson) had no answer.  Even if the levy passed (which it did), there would be very little if any money for them to apply to fixing the Lynch and Clay ditches.

Fast forward to May 31, 2012.  This time the community meeting was in North Canton.  Topic?  You guessed it:  Flooding experienced by North Cantonians as a consequence of a July 19, 2011 storm which Stark County's main ditch (the Zimber ditch) could not handle because of its decrepit condition.

Again, the commissioners (Bernabei and Ferguson) had no answer in the immediate time frame.

Nor did North Canton Mayor David Held.  Nor did Stark County Engineer Keith Bennett.

Held in essence said that the problem is to convince 98% of the people to provide funding (i.e. support a levy) to fix flooding experienced by 2% of North Canton residents (the figures were for talking purposes only; not meant to be exact numbers).

What he failed to say is that everybody who lives in a house, an apartment and/or owns/rents industrial and commercial buildings contributes runoff that finds its way to the ditches of Stark County and thereby participates in the flooding experienced by the relatively few.

Commissioners Bernabei and Ferguson (Creighton was not at the meeting) had a core message to the effect that there is no county money in the foreseeable future "to fix" the county's flooding problem.  Perhaps, some remediation, but that will be it. 

Commissioner Bernabei:

Commissioner Ferguson:

And finally, Stark County Engineer Bennett.

He offered the only glimmer of hope (within the next several years) in offering five flooding control concepts (in the study/permitting processes for the next two years), if the money can be found, which would lessen the degree of flooding (along Zimber) but would not stop it. 

Apparently, the study and permitting will be funded by a combination of funds from the county general fund and contributions by North Canton, Jackson Township and Lake Township.

Here is the video of Engineer Bennett.

According to Stark County Engineering Department Hydraulics Engineer Gary Conner (who has been working on this problem for nearly 40 years), the ditches have not been maintained in a proper manner since the late 1970s.  He says that beginning in the 1980s Stark County commissioners have failed to make the needed investment in storm ditch drainage and that the inattention is a huge factor in why residents are experiencing flooding and sewer backups as never before.

Conner said that it would take $7 million to $10 million a year over ten years for Stark County's to repair Stark's decrepit storm water draining ditches. 

The SCPR believes that in time there could be an answer if Stark County's leadership (which means county, city, village and township officials) will come together in a focused, collaborative way to develop ideas which can be designed, funded, and implemented over a span of about ten years.  But, once fixed, ditch maintenance can never again be allowed to go unattended which means the funding mechanism will have to be permanent.

Bedrock structures already exist which could serve as the base for Stark's leaders to band together in a common quest to eliminate much of the flooding that occurs in Stark County.

First, there is the March, 1997 Zimber Ditch Study. (LINK TO THE STUDY)

According to Stark County Hydraulics Engineer Gary Connor, this study remains the "go to document" for any who want to understand and deal with the flooding problems which the Zimber Ditch visits upon Stark Countians.

Second, there is the now dormant "Stark County Drainage Task Force." 

According to a website which can be accessed by readers of the SCPR (LINK):
On September 18, 2003, the first Drainage Symposium meeting was held at Stark Park’s Sippo Lake Clubhouse.  Invited to the meeting were representatives from all of Stark County's cities, townships, villages, and county-wide agencies and organizations. 
As a result of this first meeting, a primary Task Force, a Steering Committee, and four subcommittees were formed. 
The four subcommittees are Problem Identification, Education, Regulations, and Business Plan.  Each subcommittee has met several times since September 2003 ... .
Unfortunately, under the task force has gone dormant because of funding issues.

The last published minutes were for a December 16, 2005 steering sub-committee.

However, there is no reason why this administrative structure could not be resurrected and staffed with many of the same volunteers who were a part of the original effort.

And the SCPR thinks the Stark County commissioners should look into doing just that.

Third, there is a potential funding mechanism that has been provided for by the Ohio Legislature.  It is called a Storm Water Utility that operates much the same as any utility service (e.g. the Stark County Sewer District).

This LINK to an Ohio Environmental Council website provides and excellent summary of Ohio's ditching laws.

Over a year ago (at the Perry Township meeting), commissioners promised that they would look into the feasibility of creating a  storm water utility as an answer to the vexing problem of not having the funds to fix Stark's flooding problems.

Last Wednesday evening, neither Commissioner Bernabei nor Ferguson had a word to say about their look-see or even mentioned the creation of a storm utility as a possible funding source to get on with solving Stark County's ditching/flooding quandary.


After looking over the 1997 Zimber Ditch Study, hearing the commissioners at community meetings, talking with county officials familiar with the Stark County flooding problems, the SCPR urges the Stark County commissioners to:
  • initiate discussions with Stark County Parks director Robert Fonte (who appears to be the de facto  leader of the currently inactive Stark County Drainage Task Force to revive the organization,
  • update a plan (working on the base being created by Engineer Bennett) to fully implement the recommendations of the 1997 study insofar as federal regulations will allow, and
  • become thoroughly familiar with the county's options under state legislation to create a storm water utility as a way to generate funding for actual construction of the study/permitting projects flowing from the 1997 study and from Engineer Bennett's current work.

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