BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — During the 40 years Cindy and Scott Killy have lived on Weckerly Road, they have seen a gradual change in Swan Creek.
As the area has grown, so has the number of rooftops and roadways draining into the ditches and creeks, and that’s making a noticeable difference, Scott said.
“This year, with all the flooding, we’re seeing the bank eroding and it’s gotten close to our house,” said Scott, who obtained an estimate of $50,000 to shore up just 50 feet.
The Waterville Township couple sat outside Whitehouse Village Hall last week along with about 50 others who came to ask Lucas County Engineer Mike Pniewski about the Joint-County Ditch Petition that will allow the county to clear out and maintain the creeks and ditches within the Swan Creek Watershed.
Currently, it’s the responsibility of property owners along these waterways to maintain them, he said.
“This shifts the responsibility for maintenance from the people who live along it to all those who benefit from it,” Pniewski answered. “All water goes somewhere, and the drainage infrastructure takes it off your property.”
Inevitably, this means an assessment for the 50,000 properties in the watershed. How much is the No. 1 question that attendees had on their minds.
Exactly how much each landowner will pay won’t be known for a few years, but Pniewski has said previously that similar projects in other counties cost the average parcel between $2.00 and $20.00 a year.
Determining that cost depends on a combination of factors: the acreage, soil type, end use (such as agricultural or residential) and permeable area. Property owners who have already done their own work will be credited.
“Does this give you carte blanch to access our property?” Waterville Township resident Bill Burkett asked.
“Yes, but we won’t just show up. That is never good. We will let you know, sometimes years in advance,” Pniewski said.
In fact, it will be at least 2025 before any fees appear on a tax bill and work on the ditches begins.
The July 15 meeting was the second of four scheduled “views” – times when residents can look at materials and ask questions about specific properties, such as the man whose ditch doesn’t show up on the map.
“You can make an amendment up until December 1,” Pniewski said, explaining that the date is when the three county engineers will present a report to the nine commissioners on the Joint-County Ditch Petition.
The engineers’ report will look at the purpose or need and whether the benefits exceed the costs, as well as pros and cons of taking on the watershed maintenance.
If the commissioners approve the petition, the engineers will begin planning – a process that will take two years. The soonest maintenance would start is in late 2024 or early 2025. Pniewski expects a six-year plan for the work, at about $1 million to $2 million per year, just to take care of a backlog of issues. After that, the cleaning and clearing of waterways would be on a maintenance schedule.
The 24.5-mile Swan Creek drains 130,000 acres of land. While the main stream of Swan Creek and some of the larger tributaries have enough flow to keep them clean, many of the creeks and ditches feeding into the creek have logjams that cause erosion and flood properties.
The second problem is sedimentation. When many of the streams were dug 100 to 125 years ago, the landowners kept them maintained. Over the last 50 to 75 years, many portions have deteriorated and filled up with solids. Most ditches have gained up to 2 feet of silt during that time, and that can cause the waterway to lose half its capacity.
“With the rain this summer, we’re seeing the result of a lack of maintenance – we’re seeing a lot of flooding and a lack of drainage,” Pniewski said. “Basically, the drainage system in the county is beginning to fail.”
The county engineers’ role is to manage roads and bridges, but old ditch petition laws allow Pniewski to also ask permission to take over the maintenance of ditches, streams and creeks.
His office is currently working with several municipalities on other watersheds, including Van Fleet in Monclova Township and Lone Oak Ditch in Whitehouse. The Swan Creek Watershed is by far the largest.
Two more outdoor public views are slated at 2:00 p.m. on Thursday, August 19 at Monclova Community Park for residents of Monclova, Spencer and Springfield townships and the village of Holland; and on Thursday, September 16 at Swan Creek Metropark for residents of Maumee and Toledo.
On Thursday, December 2 at 2:00 p.m., the first public hearing will take place at 1 Government Center in Toledo.
Maps and further information on the project can be found at https://www.co.lucas.oh.us/3456/DrainagePetitions.