New county storm water regulations should be complete this year.
By IAN HILL
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
ALK THE OPENING stretch of the paved East Cohasset Trail in Mill Creek Park, and you may wonder why officials are so worried about flash flood damage to the park.
The wind still rustles in the nearby trees; the old, crumbling asphalt drive still winds and curves along the hillside; and the creek still trickles by below.
About halfway along the trail, however, you'll pass something unexpected: an orange construction sign stating that part of the trail is closed ahead.
Walk a little farther, and you'll find that an 8-foot-wide stretch of asphalt along the side of the trail has been torn away.
In summer 2003, storm water rushed across the asphalt and knocked out an 80-foot-long stone retaining wall that had held up the trail since the 1890s. The stones from the retaining wall, as well as the side of the trail, fell to the hillside below.
Park officials said the destruction of the retaining wall is just one of several examples of the flash-flood damage that has occurred in the park over the past two years. Other damage includes:
UA stone retaining wall and the creek bank along the East Channel and Islands hiking trail has been torn away, leaving the edge of the trail next to a 2-foot drop to the creek. The trail is closed.
UAn isthmus of sediment has again appeared in Mirror Pond, even though between 3-4 feet of sediment was dredged from the lake earlier this year.
UErosion is wearing away the dirt behind a stone headwall near Kreider's Entrance, increasing the risk that the wall will be destroyed by flash floods. The headwall was rebuilt last year after being destroyed by storm water.
UTrees have been torn out of the ground by their roots and have fallen across some of the park hiking trails.
UFlash floods have cut streams and gullies into some of the hillsides in the park, leaving behind piles of small stone.
UThe park's golf course has been closed because of flooding several times, and golf course revenue is about $100,000 below average this year because of the rain.
"There's people who have been here for 35 years who have never seen anything like this before, [flash flooding] time and time again," said park Executive Director Susan Dicken. "We can't even put a dollar figure on it because we don't know the extent of the damage."
"You're talking a lot of man hours to clean it up," added Tom Fountaine, park maintenance director.
What adds to problem
Dicken stressed that the problem isn't just the record amount of rain that has been dumped on the park and the Mahoning Valley in the past two years. It's the speed and force with which that water has flowed through the park.
And that speed has increased dramatically in the past two years, Dicken said. The reason for the increase, she said, is that development in the Mill Creek watershed is clearing out the obstacles that slow down storm water before it gets to the park.
The watershed covers about 47,000 acres in Mahoning and Columbiana counties that drain storm water into the park and Mill Creek. Dicken compared the watershed to a bathtub.
"Every drop of water goes down the drain. We're the drain," she said.
Storm water that falls in the watershed, however, is typically slowed by trees and easements on its way to the creek. By cutting down trees and paving land in the watershed, developers and local officials are removing the speed bumps that storm water must pass over on its way to the creek.
The Mill Creek watershed includes the stores, plazas and malls along U.S. Route 224 in Boardman, as well as rapidly growing areas in Canfield and Beaver townships. The Canfield Fairgrounds also are in the watershed.
As it flows over those areas, storm water picks up pebbles and trash that it later drops off in the park when it hits trees and brush or the slower-flowing creek and park lakes. The pebbles and trash become the sediment that fills the creek and park lakes and harms the fish and wildlife.
Heather Moser, watershed coordinator for the Mahoning County Soil and Water Conservation District, said damage to the park and stream has hurt the already-troubled image of the Mahoning Valley.
"It's part of the whole perception of the area, of pollution, of dirt, of the mills," she said.
Dicken said park maintenance crews have worked hard to repair damage caused by flash flooding in the past two years and keep the park open. As a result, park visitors might not realize the extent of the damage.
Last year, the park received $175,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help pay for the repairs. About $129,000 of that money is slated to fix the damage to the East Cohasset Trail, Dicken said.
The rest will be used for 16 other repair projects in the park.
If the flash flooding continues, however, Dicken believes the park won't have enough money to fix the damage.
Dicken said that to limit damage to the creek and park, local officials and developers need to work together to control storm water flow in the watershed.
Last week, Dicken and other park officials met with officials from Boardman Township and the Mahoning County engineer's office to discuss studying storm water in the watershed.
"It's not just one thing that someone's going to do to fix the problem," said Marilyn Kenner, the chief deputy engineer for the engineer's office and president of the Alliance for Watershed Action and Riparian Easements, or AWARE. The organization includes representatives from area governments, businesses and community organizations.
"It's going to take a while, a lot of money and a lot of time," Kenner said.
The county is expected to take a step toward addressing the storm water problem later this year, when it completes its new storm water management regulations for developers. The regulations are being created at the direction of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
Also, federal and state emergency management agency officials are to meet with local government leaders at 1 p.m. Wednesday in Boardman Township Hall to discuss this month's flood damage.
Don Garver, an urban conservationist with the county soil and water conservation district, said the SWCD will be allowed to inspect construction sites to make sure developers are following the regulations. Those who don't will be penalized, he said.
The nature of the penalties have yet to be determined.
Garver added that the county building department and local city, township and village zoning departments most likely will require developers to submit storm water management plans before issuing permits for construction.
XOn the Net: www.watershed.cboss.com (AWARE)