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Better maps of Wauseon's storm drains sought

WAUSEON - A local businessman has called on city leaders to develop better maps of Wauseon's storm drains to aid in spill containment.

Harold Stickley, owner of E&H Automotive on Ottokee Street, said uncertainty about where drains near his business discharged delayed response to an oil spill earlier this month after someone opened spigots from waste-oil storage tanks on his property.

The uncertainty indirectly allowed some of the oil to reach Turkeyfoot Creek, Mr. Stickley told city council last week. The oil might otherwise have been intercepted farther upstream in the drain system rather than at the outlet into the creek, where a boom placed to capture the oil unexpectedly sank, he said.

"City council needs to set a plan in motion" so that any similar spills in Wauseon's future don't have similar results, Mr. Stickley said.

Police Chief Keith Torbet said local emergency agencies already have spill-response plans but acknowledged that "we just don't have master blueprints of what's underground."

"When it comes to the storm sewers, our maps are old, except in the newer subdivisions," agreed Dave Murry, Wauseon's public-works superintendent.

City Council member Kathy Huner said recent water and sanitary-sewer projects in Wauseon have led to better maps of those networks, but the storm drains have yet to get similar attention.

"This is going to be a lot of work just to get blueprints made up," she said.

Mr. Stickley suggested starting out by plotting manhole locations for the various utilities with colored dots on a map, "and then we can connect the dots" if necessary.

Sometime in the late afternoon of Sept. 13, parties unknown released about 500 gallons of waste oil from the tanks at Mr. Stickley's business. When he stopped by at about 7 p.m. that day, he discovered all but 15 gallons had escaped, with much of it having gone down a drain.

It had been dry enough, Mr. Stickley recalled last week, that the oil didn't flow very far in the storm sewer. But not knowing where it would go when flushed and a lack of information about contractors who might assist in doing that caused hours of delay, he said.

During that time, booms were placed at the storm sewers' two outlets. By the time water was flushed into the sewers to push the oil out to those booms, the one at Turkeyfoot had sunk, Mr. Stickley said.

That problem was soon discovered and rectified, but it significantly increased the cleanup's likely cost, he said.

Knowing the storm drains' layout could have allowed containment to be placed at an intermediate point within the system, rather than at the discharge point, Mr. Stickley told council.

"I'd hate to have this happen to somebody else," he said. "I've been here 30 years, and I never thought it would happen to me. With a plan, we'd have had an environmental company identified that we could have called. As it was, we just played it by ear as we rolled along."

Wauseon police are handling the spill as a vandalism case, and as of later last week their investigation continued.

Mr. Stickley said surveillance tape from his business showed an unfamiliar pickup truck on the property during the time when the spigot may have been opened, and he hoped to get additional film from a neighboring property owner that might help him identify that vehicle.

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