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Published: Wednesday, 6/29/2011

Sylvania Twp. trustees hear questions on stormwater district

Keith Earley, left, suggests in a letter to John Zeitler that the regulatory process for setting up a drainage system would take too long. Keith Earley, left, suggests in a letter to John Zeitler that the regulatory process for setting up a drainage system would take too long.

While some in Sylvania Township hope to set up a local drainage-control district quickly enough to avoid having to pay into a Lucas County-managed program, a letter from Lucas County Engineer Keith Earley suggests the regulatory process for doing so would take too long.

Just getting a permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to establish the township's compliance plan for stormwater management would take at least six months, Mr. Earley warned in the June 17 letter to Township Administrator John Zeitler. Without its own permit, the township would immediately violate the federal Clean Water Act if it withdrew from the Stormwater Utility District that county commissioners established in May, the county engineer wrote.

Mr. Zeitler cited Mr. Earley's letter during township trustees' renewed discussion last week about the merits of creating a separate district to ensure that drainage-related taxes collected in Sylvania Township are spent on projects within the township.

Several residents urged the trustees to proceed that way, but two of three on the board cautioned that the process for doing so may be more complicated than it appears.

"I urge you to look at any option" that would allow the township to comply with federal Clean Water Act mandates for storm-water management in "the most cost-effective way," said Rob Brown, owner of 16 acres of commercial land, including several businesses, on Central Avenue. "I've got to believe that you can run it a lot better than the county."

Daniel Zimmerman, a Whiteford Road resident, told trustees he doubts the township will get back full value for money its taxpayers pay into the drainage utility that the Lucas County commissioners approved last month and for which tax collection is to begin next spring -- including an estimated $2 million annually from Sylvania Township.

"It bothers me that there is one more government entity that is taking my money and spending it where I don't have any control," he said.

No decisions were made after Tuesday night's discussion at the trustee meeting, but trustees said they plan to thoroughly review the issue. The township would have to withdraw before the year's end in order to stave off the county district's assessments, which would be $48 for a residence and calculated for businesses on the basis of impervious surface area and credit for any on-site runoff controls, such as retention ponds.

Mr. Brown said the drainage bill for his commercial properties would be between $5,000 and $6,000 annually.

He and Mr. Zimmerman had the ready ear of trustee Kevin Haddad, who has pushed for a township alternative to the county plan for several months on the grounds that Sylvania Township won't get credit for work it has already done to improve drainage on several of its creeks and ditches.

But trustees Neal Mahoney and John Jennewine remained hesitant, saying care needs to be taken not to move so rapidly that the township ends up a lawsuit target.

"I don't want to pay it, but I don't want to get sued, either," Mr. Mahoney said. "I'm not sure about the legality or the numbers."

"This is a complicated issue without a real easy solution," said Mr. Jennewine, the trustees chairman, who added that a countywide district including municipalities, not just townships, would be the ideal outcome.

Mr. Haddad presented a plan for a local district that estimated $188,200 in start-up costs and $265,000 in annual project expenses, including street sweeping and sewer cleaning. But he acknowledged that the $18,000 line for legal fees assumed nobody objected to the idea.

Mr. Zeitler said the township's contribution is expected to make up about 39 percent of the county's expected drainage-district revenue, and he had been promised that, in the long run, Sylvania Township would indeed get 39 percent of the benefit -- to which Mr. Jennewine responded, "Can we get that in writing?"

But Mr. Haddad fretted that once the township starts paying into the county program, its ability to withdraw will be compromised.

"Once the county gets our money, we won't get it back," he said.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.

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