Landowners would fund petitioned ditch work

By David J. Coehrs - [email protected]

Petitions filed under a joint-county proposal are asking that some area landowners be assessed the cost of a permanent maintenance agreement that will keep creeks and tributaries clear of troublesome logjams and sentiment.

The Joint County Ditch Petitions, involving Ten Mile Creek and Swan Creek, would create a system for routinely maintaining waterways in Lucas and Fulton counties, which for years have been blocked by dead trees and accumulations of silt that disrupt the flow of water. The separate petitions filed in March would benefit landowners in the Swanton, Delta, Metamora, and Lyons areas.

Lucas County Engineer Mike Pniewski said, because they would benefit, the landowners would be asked to pay a relatively inexpensive assessment each year to fund the project.

He said each year jurisdictions and private landowners in the areas covered by the main stem of Ten Mile Creek end up cleaning two to six major logjams and other minor logjams along the watershed.

“It’s a lot cheaper if you don’t have to clear out a major logjam, and if you can have a method to go out every year and take down so many trees and smaller logjams before they become big logjams it results in much better results for the public,” he said.

Ten Mile Creek runs east to west along the Ohio border to the Metamora and Lyons areas. That petition was filed by Spencer Township in Lucas County.

Pniewski said the Swan Creek petition, filed by the Village of Whitehouse, would accomplish the same thing for the Swanton and Delta areas: perform permanent maintenance on the main creek stems to clear logjams and deal with logjam flooding, and to clear sediment from tributaries.

“Most of our tributaries have never been maintained, or they’ve been maintained in kind of a haphazard fashion,” he said. We have one to two feet of sediment in a lot of our tributaries that need to be cleaned, and they’re starting to not function well.”

The Ohio Revised Code makes landowners adjacent to a water course responsible for drainage maintenance, but not all landowners have the same definition for proper maintenance, Pniewski said. “Some people do a lot…and some people, it’s essentially nothing,” he said. “If the petition is approved, it provides a way, a method for the counties to address maintenance on our water courses in a very systematic and organized fashion.”

The petitions’ other purpose is to recognize that everyone is responsible to pay for maintaining drainage infrastructure, which under the petitions would cost $1 million to $2 million annually, he said.

“It really is a piece of infrastructure, and it really shouldn’t be thought of any differently than your water or sewer line or any other piece of infrastructure that benefits the public at large,” Pniewski said. “The benefiting landowners will ultimately be responsible for sharing the cost of maintenance. But it’s our goal to make that cost relatively what people would expect to pay in a water bill.”

Because 70,000 landowners would be affected, an annual maintenance assessment should be reasonable, he said. Landowners in other areas of the state where similar petitions were approved have paid $10 to $20 annually.

The petition process now moves ahead with summer viewings of the problem areas, held by the Lucas and Fulton County Commissioners.

For Ten Mile Creek, the first of three will be held Thursday at Lathrop Park in Berkey for Fulton County, Berkey, Richfield Township, and Spencer Township.

For the Swan Creek watershed, the first viewing is also Thursday, and will be for Fulton County, Henry County, and Providence Township. It will be at Oak Openings Lodge in Swanton Township.

A second viewing will be July 15 for Harding Township, Swanton Township, Waterville Township, Whitehouse, and Waterville. It will be at the Whitehouse Village Hall.

Hearings on Nov. 4 for Ten Mile Creek and Dec. 2 for Swan Creek will determine whether the commissioners feel the project should proceed. In that case, two years of engineering work will ensue. Upon its completion, a final hearing would decide whether the petitions are approved, and in that case a six-year work plan would be prepared for a baseline assessment of the entire watershed.

Despite the long process, Pniewski said most people recognize the issues involved. He said when people realize the scope of the work, what it will accomplish, and the ultimate cost to the landowner “they’ll see the benefit and see the work, and see that it’s really going toward infrastructure – that it’s something that needs to be done, and for the price per landowner it’s a worthwhile thing to do.”

Fulton County Commissioner Jeff Rupp said he and his fellow commissioners don’t know enough yet about the petition project to comment, but acknowledged the problem.

“We haven’t made the decision yet whether we feel this is a necessity,” he said. “But over time ditches do get filled up with silts, with limbs, with branches, with trees that fall, and they just need maintenance to make sure that the water flow continues in a way that provides proper drainage.”

Pniewski said landowners he’s spoken to about the petitions haven’t argued about their place in the process.

“They see the need that they’re part of a watershed and everybody is, essentially, together in the whole thing,” he said.

By David J. Coehrs

[email protected]

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.