Dear Maumee Residents and Businesses:
Mayor Carr and Maumee City Council truly understand your frustration and your support of “Strong Towns” principles and continued understanding that improvement in any community is not without some measure of discomfort regardless of each of our individual acceptance for the manner in which projects are being completed.
It is certainly hard to deny the fact that communities like Maumee, first-ring suburbs of historically declining urban cities like Toledo, have been experiencing the gradual decline without notice as evidenced by declines in leading economic indicators and increases in negative outcomes for many commercial buildings in our community. The divergence becomes more evident when we examine data regarding the significant increase in single-parent households headed by women and men living at or below 60 percent of Area Median Incomes (AMI), as well as declining Area Median Incomes in comparison to other communities, the significant rise in single-family homes being purchased by out-of-state investors, and the city’s historical lack of adequate infrastructure and environmental investment.
Please forgive me if I offer explanations for issues you mention that most of you may have already considered and are somewhat brief. It is not my intention to skim over many of these extremely difficult subjects or to reiterate knowledge or perspectives you already possess, so please excuse me if I do. As you may already know, nothing in the municipal arena or space is or should ever be considered unrelated. The city’s vision, direction and projects, as I am sure many of you agree, should always be measured against some overall concept (vision) that recognizes the intersection of not only two or three seemingly disconnected variables, projects or events, but also a myriad of variables that make up the whole.
In our case, the towpath, the Anthony Wayne Trail including the cul-de-sacing of Detroit Avenue, Gibbs Street, uptown, the 20A divergent diamond interchange, the Elizabeth Street Pump Station and sanitary sewer overflow remediation are all interconnected. While it is unfortunate that they are all taking place in one 3- to 4-year period, it is unavoidable considering the funding mechanisms and changes employed, which will be explained in an article at a later date.
The towpath we know was quaint and walkable most of the year. In an effort to include and accommodate other, more marginalized populations, all non-fuel-motorized transportation and yes, large, heavy equipment similar to a sewer vactor and related appurtenances, the path is being constructed between 10 and 12 feet wide with 8 inches of reinforced concrete. Additionally, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) standards for an intermodal path like ours previously required a minimum of 10 feet in width and has since been changed to a minimum of 11 feet.
Prior to construction, we had sections that only measured 5 feet in width of crushed limestone, some of which inevitably and annually ended up in the Maumee River, a negative side effect because of lime content leaching to the river. City crews will be backfilling the edges of the concrete path and hydro-seed as they did last year on the east side of Conant. Many more trees, native to our region, will be planted after invasives such as honeysuckle are removed. It is our hope to finish the connection to Ford Street this season, weather permitting. To be clear, the city has no plans to pave the upper towpath in any way.
I will attempt to explain the sanitary sewer overflow problems we are experiencing, even though referring to it in this manner seems entirely inadequate. The story is complicated and long, but I will attempt a summary in any event.
In May of 2020, almost two and a half months after arriving in Maumee, several staff members and I were discussing why our last quarterly sanitary sewer invoice from Lucas County was so high. One of the staff members explained that it was likely because of the recent rain events. This immediately sent up “red flags.” What we realized is that even though city staff reported to the county and the EPA that we completed our combined sewer overflow (CSO) repairs in 1996, we in fact had not finished or at least improperly installed cross connections between sanitary and storm sewer mains or at the very least allowed them to remain.
I called the mayor that same day and explained that the city of Maumee has been and was continuing to discharge combined sewerage to the Maumee River during heavy rain events and that I believed such action to be a violation of the Clean Water Act of 1972 section regarding “Illicit Discharges” and was clearly a federal crime. He immediately told me to contact the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and report, which staff and I did immediately.
As you can imagine, it was not well received by the state and federal governments, which led to an Ohio EPA “Findings and Orders” issued to the city. Subsequently, state and federal criminal investigations commenced and are still ongoing. During the course of requests for documents by investigators, the city turned over thousands of documents. It is clear that recent, no-longer-employed city staff continued to ignore sanitary sewage overflows and ordered significant pumping of combine sewerage to storm sewers, eventually leading to the Maumee River. To be clear, the choice to discharge was not always easy, considering the alternative posed of allowing thousands of residential basements to flood with combined sewage during heavy rain events.
Regardless, the choice to illicitly discharge combined sewage and submit false reporting regarding said discharges was, as stated above, illegal. I absolutely believe that the mayor and city council knew nothing of these practices or at least believed pumps employed to discharge were not pumping sanitary sewage, but rather storm water.
Will it be expensive to fix? Unfortunately, yes. Public infrastructure that is mostly ignored (partly because we don’t see the hundreds of miles of sewer and water mains lying beneath our streets) and when problems are not remediated, the costs that should have been incremental over the last 40 to 50 years are being required by the “Findings and Orders” over the next 15. However, considering the significant investigation and construction repairs made by our local team in and around uptown over the last several years, what we believed would cost millions and millions of dollars will be far less than anticipated.
It will always be the endeavor of the mayor and city council to stop “Illicit Discharges” with the full understanding that it is their friends, neighbors and businesses as well as themselves who will eventually pay the costs of these past misdeeds. In addition to the costs for the public infrastructure construction necessary to respond to past improper discharging, private residential homes will eventually be required to separate their own footer drains and downspouts, which is why we applied for low-interest loan funding for the private side. This program is confusing because it is yet to be finalized. We are first attempting to take care of enough of the public fix to alleviate much of the potentially high costs to private homes. There will be more information next year regarding this proposed program.
The Anthony Wayne Trail Safety Project is funded by the United States Department of Transportation, ODOT and the city. Although the city council continues to support the decision that was made by former staff regarding closing off Detroit Avenue, that decision was made in 2017-18 as part of a safety study that suggested the safety failures of the intersection in its past configuration. This was also the reason why the signaled intersection at Town Street was constructed, understanding that Detroit Avenue would eventually be terminated at the Trail.
When reviewing the AW Trail Safety Project as preliminarily designed, it became clear that safety of motorists, while very important, seemed to have been the guiding principle of its design. However, bicyclists and pedestrians, many of which are the city’s youth and seniors, need to be accommodated in any project the city pursues. This is why the city requested significant changes of ODOT for the project, namely the 3-mile multimodal path, over 750 street trees between the new curb and the path, additional lower-level lighting and narrowing of lanes, as well as reducing the speed limit between Ford and Key streets to 35 mph. Again, this is all connected to the whole through the principles of safety and community building that our community likely already embraces.
I suspect none of what is written here means much when you live close to the same substantiative change, and while we all agree change is inevitable, living through what is necessary to make that change is difficult at best. My own or city council’s reflection must not be measured against the question of whether the “ends justify the “means” but whether the “ends” is justified in the first place.
There is no other means to alleviate fast traffic than to narrow streets so that motorists feel the risk of traveling faster. There are no means for remediating blight and increasing property values than actual enforcement, proper repair and rehabilitation. There are no means for making our community safer without considering the larger picture and making a decision to do what it takes regardless of inconvenience and political consequence. If we, as a community, truly believe we want better for ourselves, our children and seniors but employ the same old transportation planning that favors vehicles over pedestrian safety, dilapidation and property value stagnation instead of proper enforcement and repair of our homes and neighborhoods, we can only expect Maumee to become a lesser version of other deteriorating urban communities.
I sincerely believe that when we look back sometime next summer and revisit how we got here, we will agree that the “ends” were justified, not because we believe the “means” by which these changes occurred were wrong, but because we recognize that the inconvenience of construction is always the necessary evil we live with in order to have a community of which we can be proud and one that cherishes positive change instead of victimhood as we all too often hear and see in typical “populist” reaction. Sometimes things are just worth doing regardless of the pain we suffer in the interim.
Suggestions are always welcome, although please remember that personal, hateful attacks on Facebook or other social media outlets are not constructive and in fact are degrading and outright mean. Please do not be that person.
Again, the mayor and city council sincerely appreciate the opportunity to hear your constructive, kind thoughts, even if in dissention. We apologize that this is lengthier than it should be, but please believe that what we do is directly related to being true believers in Maumee.
Patrick Burtch, Ph.D.
City of Maumee