Commissioners address Pine Creek flooding

Published 10:18 am Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Elizabeth Township Fire Chief Dale Waugh can recall a car accident in 1980 that required the assistance of firefighters. A big old Pontiac Bonneville had gone off State Route 93 and into Pine Creek.

“I drove past the guy a couple of times before I found him,” Waugh recounted at a meeting Tuesday morning at the Lawrence County Courthouse.

“The creek was so low we couldn’t find the car at first.” The problem, Waugh said, was the creek bed didn’t stay low.

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Over the years sediment has built up and now the creek bed is shallow — so shallow that when the area gets heavy rains, the water has no place to go. Homes are flooded. People are either trapped in or out of their houses. Firefighters are called to rescue stranded motorists.

“It’s a big problem and a recurring problem and if you go back to people who have lived there, it didn’t used to happen,” Lawrence County Commissioner Jason Stephens said.

Flooding along Pine Creek was the subject of a discussion Tuesday involving representatives of numerous local, state and federal agencies.

The county commission asked for the meeting earlier this month after a weekend of heavy rains sent creeks out of their banks and into roadways and homes.

Fingers were pointed at several causes, one of them was the sediment-filled creeks.

“We put up with this all the time,” Elizabeth Township trustee Ron Davis said.

He said the township does clean its part of ditches but this does little good when the ditch empties into another agency’s jurisdiction and the other government entity does nothing.

“If you don’t do something with the sediment, it’s going to continue to build up,” Davis said.

Waugh said there was a plan to dredge the creek several years ago but it was never done.

Tim Sloan, Wayne National Forest Ironton District Ranger, said a WNF report completed in 2007 addressed some of the same issues that plague residents today.

He said some of the solutions mentioned in the report are long term ones, such as raising U.S. 93 out of the flood zone. Others were short-term, such as cleaning out the creek beds.

“Dredging is short-term as the silt collects quickly,” Sloan said.

“Raising State Route 93 is not really feasible,” Stephens countered. “What is the cost analysis on dredging?”

Amy Frantz, chief of planning for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said that federal agency may be able to help — maybe. Frantz said there are several federal programs aimed at alleviating the causes of flooding.

“We do have programs to dredge. There is a program that looks at public structure (roads). We have a program that looks at improving channel capacity. Some of these are not quick solutions,” Frantz said.

“But it is possible there are some ways we can help.” But right now there is a moratorium on starting new projects.

She advised the county commission to submit a formal request asking for help. The request could be considered in future years.

Township trustees can petition the county engineer to perform work on waterway channels but the owners of the property will be charged for the work. Davis pointed out the landowners often can’t afford the cost of such work.

Another cause of flooding is the beaver dams on some parts of Pine Creek and other waterways. Steve Hawkins, with the ODNR Division of Wildlife, said it is possible to get his agency’s permission to remove beaver dams.

Sloan said the USFS is removing some beaver dams in the Township Road 113 area.

Beaver dam removal, Sloan said, is done on a case-by-case basis. He said beavers are considered a game species and any remedy would have to involve the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, as the forestry service has no jurisdiction over game.

The WNF, ACE and other entities agreed to meet again in the future in hopes of solving the flooding problem.