Frequent flooding puts drain on fields, farmers
County officials are working to develop a plan to remove the blockages causing the flooding.
By NORMAN LEIGH
VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU
LEETONIA -- In the hazy heat of a summer afternoon, the fields near Franklin Square bake in the sun.
But let the sky darken and the clouds unleash enough rain and many of those fields become awash in water from nearby creeks that swell with the deluge.
Sometimes the streams rise enough to invade a section of Lisbon Road, south of state Route 344, and keep it submerged for days.
The flooding has some farmers and landowners in this area of Salem Township fed up. Nearly a half-dozen are directly affected.
They're seeking help from Columbiana County government to remedy the problem, but a solution many be long in coming.
"It always has flooded. But it floods worse now and stays longer," said David Peel, who lives near Lisbon Road. "It's getting progressively worse each year," Peel added.
County officials estimate that the flooding has become especially problematic over the last five or six years.
Forced to wait
"You have to wait a long time to plant" so the fields will be reasonably dry, complained George Shivers, another Lisbon Road resident who's trying to raise corn, wheat and soybeans.
Even waiting doesn't guarantee flooding won't take its toll. Losing established crops to high water is not uncommon, said Shivers, whose porch overlooks nearly 16 acres of bottom land he farms near Little Beaver Creek.
Farther downstream, along state Route 558, Dwayne Hofmann tries to make the best of the flooding that has transformed much of his property into a marsh. Hofmann has dug a pond and installed birdhouses and nesting sites.
Looking over his nearly 15 acres of soggy ground, he notes that the property was farmed by a previous farmer nearly 30 years ago, before the flooding became such a problem and lily pads and cattails replaced crops.
About all his land produces now is mosquitoes. "I've got the fattest bunch in the county," Hofmann said.
His neighbor, Mark Greathouse, said he's frustrated by the flooding. "It keeps washing my garden out," he said.
Here's what's wrong
The problem, said Bert Dawson, county engineer, is the fallen trees and beaver dams that choke Little Beaver Creek, the East Branch of Little Beaver Creek and Stone Mill Run, all of which flow through the area.
Further impeding the water is a sand bar in Little Beaver Creek near state Route 558.
Some property owners whose land abuts the creeks contribute to the flooding by failing to keep their section of the waterway clear.
If the debris and sandbar were removed, the streams would be more likely to stay within their banks, off surrounding fields and away from Lisbon Road, Dawson said.
He is working with county commissioners to identify blockages and develop a removal plan.
It's not as easy as it may sound, Dawson said.
Officials will have to obtain the permission of property owners along the streams to get at the blockages.
The waterways are regulated by state rules and regulations, meaning permits probably will have to be received before work can be started.
One major question that must be resolved is whether the affected section of Little Beaver Creek contains Mirex, a carcinogen that seeped into parts of the stream from a chemical plant that operated near Salem decades ago.
"That's something we'll have to check into ... before we even think about addressing" the flooding, said Commissioner Dave Cranmer.
If Mirex is present, the cost of clearing the stream could go up significantly because a host of regulations would govern removal and disposal of the material, Commissioner Jim Hoppel noted.
Another fear concerning the toxin is whether a stream-clearing project would unleash polluted sediment and further spread contamination.
Finally, there's a question of funding. It is unclear how much clearing the creek will cost. Another unknown is how the project would be funded, Dawson said.
There may be state and federal grants available, he added. Another funding solution may be to undertake the work and then assess affected property owners for the cost.
But that remedy is fraught with potential legal entanglements from owners challenging their assessment, Dawson said.
Until the problems and questions are worked out, landowners will have to continue studying the sky and wondering if the next bout of rainy weather will bring more flooding.