Akron, Ohio – In March of 2010, the County Executive’s office, County Council and the County Engineer entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in regards to a surface water funding program. In the MOU the County Engineer’s office was charged with putting together a preliminary countywide stormwater management plan. After a long process the Summit County Engineer’s office has come up with a draft Ordinance putting in place the basic structure of a regional surface water management utility in Summit County.
There are several advantages to instituting a regional surface water utility in Summit County. First and foremost, Summit County would see cleaner water and less pollution. Stormwater can be described as “nature’s bath water”, carrying the dirt and debris from the environment through our communities and out to either Lake Erie or the Ohio River. Second, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has been toughening up regulations for how local communities deal with surface water runoff. They recently issued a warning to Summit County’s neighbor, Portage County, which led to Portage County instituting a similar program.
County officials recognize that the cost of compliance with OEPA Stormwater Regulations will escalate in the next five years as these regulations move into their next phase requiring more analysis of the stormwater system, increased monitoring and treatment of the stormwater and a higher level of maintenance of stormwater systems.
In addition, the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD) in 2009 announced plans to begin assessing some of Summit County’s northern communities a $57 per year fee for improvements they claim are caused in part by stormwater runoff from Summit County. Sherri Bevan Walsh, Summit County Prosecutor, had taken exception to the NEORSD plan, stating that the Summit County Engineer is the Drainage Engineer for Summit County, not the NEORSD.
One of NEORSD main complaints was that Summit County did not have a plan in place on a countywide scale. Enacting this Regional Surface Water Management Utility at $12 per year versus NEORSD’s $57 per year fee is not only the right thing to do, it would take away NEORSD,s main argument for taxing Summit County residents.
The greatest benefit of the Surface Water Utility to our local residents will be the funding of projects that will stop or prevent flooding that causes damage to private property and businesses. Last year was the second wettest on record for the Akron area and this year is predicted to be worse given that the water table is already elevated. Currently there is no funding source on the county level to fix flooding that occurs outside the road right-of-way. Motor Vehicle and Gas Tax dollars (which fund the County Engineer’s office) are dedicated to roads and bridges by state statute, and the economic downturn makes using any other funding source impossible.
The Regional Surface Water Management Utility draft was created by relying heavily on community input. The County Engineer’s office, with the approval of County Council, hired the University of Akron in partnership with the Lorain County Community College to study the issue. They conducted interviews with Summit County communities to solicit their views with regard to large scale flooding and stormwater runoff issues. The County Engineer’s office used the feedback to design a program that would address the communities’ needs.
The program has mechanisms to solve regional flooding problems while cities, villages and townships still maintain local control. If enacted, there would be a board made up of local officials to determine project funding and timelines. The utility would allow communities to decide if their project was local or regional in nature. If they agree that they project has “regional” benefits, the project would be a candidate for funding through the Regional Surface Water Utility. No project would be constructed without the consent of the local community.
Accompanying this announcement is a draft of Chapter 942. This draft, which explains in detail how the program would be structured, would be added to the Summit County Codified Ordinances were this particular Regional Surface Water Management Utility enacted by County Council.