Improvement plan in the works



The alliance hopes the state approves the proposal soon.
By JOHN W. GOODWIN JR.
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- A group of governmental bodies, organizations and citizens is hoping a plan to improve the Mill Creek watershed soon is approved.
Most anyone who visits Mill Creek MetroParks can appreciate the beauty and tranquillity. But the creek also serves a more utilitarian purpose for those living in the 78 square miles around the creek.
It is the watershed for that area.
The Mill Creek watershed begins about three miles south of Columbiana and runs into downtown Youngstown. The watershed includes parts of Boardman, Canfield, Austintown, Green, Beaver, Fairfield and Columbiana townships and Youngstown.
Heather Moser, Mahoning Soil and Water Conservation District, said despite the creek's beauty, it does have some unsightly, unhealthy and smelly problems that need to be addressed.
The Alliance for Watershed Action and Riparian Easements, or AWARE, has developed a plan to address concerns in the watershed.
The draft watershed management plan outlines what is being done now to promote the health of the stream, Moser said. The draft also includes changes needed to assure the stream's future health, she said.
The group hopes the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources approves the plan in the next few months.
Areas of concern
Moser said AWARE has identified several areas of concern in the watershed. Fecal contamination from cows along the banks of the creek and its contributors, and from combined sewage overflow, is a problem, she said.
The creek also has sediment contamination from agricultural operations and urban development and stream bank erosion "from uncontrolled storm water," Moser said.
Sediment contamination and erosion has caused a loss in stream habitat, such as certain fish and insects, she said.
The plan lists ways to deal with the problems. For the plan to be most effective, however, every community in the watershed must be a willing participant, Moser said.
Buffer zones
The management plan calls for the preservation of all buffers between developed areas and the creek, she said. The buffer zone's size in a given area would be determined by the size of the stream in that area.
Moser said communities in the watershed should mandate through zoning that any new development along the creek create a buffer zone. Implementing the buffer zones would prevent stream bank erosion, filter runoff pollutants, preserve wildlife and potentially help with flooding during heavy rains, she said.
Beaver Township already is requiring such conservation easements for developments along the stream. Michelle Swope, Beaver Township zoning inspector, said two new developments on Sharrot Road were required to have the easements.
Swope said the land owners retain ownership of the land but give up all developmental rights to that section of property. The owners are compensated for each acre, she said. The township has about 67 acres in conservation easements.
"The trustees are very aggressive and forward thinking with this idea and protecting our sensitive areas," she said. "These areas are very valuable to us."
Zoning inspectors in other communities aren't opposed to requiring the easements, but say they are waiting to get a clearer look at the plan before changing any policies.
Mike Kurilla, Jr., Austintown zoning inspector, said the easements are a good idea. But implementing such easements would take a collaborative effort between the zoning department, county planning commission, trustees and the county engineers office, he said. There already are requirements for green space on the books, he said.
Darren Crivelli, Boardman zoning inspector, reserved comment until he has seen what the plan suggests. He said, however, that Boardman officials would entertain any suggestions from the public at an upcoming series of hearings to address zoning code changes.
"We are going to amend the ordinance and will certainly be open to any suggestions that any group or individual may have," he said.
Sewage overflows
According to Moser, the plan also calls for communities to address combined sewage overflows. That happens when rain water and sewage overload a system, causing the sewage to flow out into a stream.
Youngstown is looking at ways to address combined sewage overflows.
Larry Gurlea, superintendent of the city sewer plant, said the system is required to retain 85 percent of its content even during heavy rains. The system retains only about 65 percent, however, he said.
The city has had a program to address the issue for about five years, he said. The city submitted a 30-year plan to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency in January 2003 detailing how it would reach the 85 percent requirement, Gurlea said. The plan is awaiting approval.
Gurlea said the plan includes upgrading the current treatment plant to handle more flow. The plan calls for installing smaller treatment units at some of the largest overflow points in the area. The smaller units work much like the treatment plant but on a smaller scale.
Looking ahead
Should EPA approve the plan, Gurlea said officials would begin designing the plant upgrade in 2006 with installation of the smaller units to follow. The 30-year plan's cost is an estimated $100 million.
Gurlea said in the meantime, the city will continue cleaning catch basins, increase sewer maintenance and fix broken pipes in the system.
Moser said besides addressing combined sewage overflows and preserving land, AWARE suggests farmers fence cattle away from the stream and educating the general public about the creek and watershed.
Moser said communities and residents in the watershed cannot be forced to follow the plan, but said it would go a long way in addressing the problems if all were willing partners.
She said addressing some of these issues would also be helpful in water management with flooding.
jgoodwin@vindy.com

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