EPA, Army Corps, city engineer share wetlands insights

This diagram provided by the Ohio EPA at its March 9 public hearing in North Ridgeville shows proposed phases of the Windsor Point subdivision. The wetlands currently at issue are located on the south side of Avalon Drive, just west of Stoney Ridge Road. Wetlands areas are shown in blue and were modified on the original illustration by NRP graphic designer Tracy Lee Miller.

Officials from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Buffalo District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) and the North Ridgeville Engineering Department

offered their views on the Ontario Land Company/Oster Homes wetlands situation when contacted last week following the EPA’s March 9 public hearing at North Ridgeville Middle School.

EPA spokesman Mike Settles shed light on the enormity of the EPA’s area of jurisdiction when asked how a wetlands can be partially filled (i.e. impacted), as is the case in North Ridgeville’s Windsor Point subdivision near the intersection of Stoney Ridge Road and Avalon Drive, without the agency’s knowledge.

“Sometimes the fill takes place, and we don’t know about it,” Settles said March 10. “There are tens of thousands of wetlands and streams throughout the state. We can’t be the eyes and ears for the entire state. We rely on citizens to let us know when something takes place.”

North Ridgeville residents asked repeatedly at the public hearing about fines against Ontario Land for its failure to get EPA permission before impacting one-third of an acre of wetlands. To date, no fines have been imposed.

“It (the infraction) can result in some additional mitigation and perhaps additional permit fees,” Settles said, adding the EPA tries to work with builders to a mutually beneficial outcome, where possible. “It’s a minimal amount of money, frankly.”

Residents also took exception to any wetlands mitigation plan that would involve restoring wetlands 30 miles away in the Charlemont Reservation in southern Lorain County. Settles said the word “nearby” is “a general term,” when used in relocating those wetlands.

“The closer we can get to the actual impacted site (in North Ridgeville), the better,” he explained. “If we can get it within the same community and watershed, that’s great. It’s a goal, but it doesn’t always happen. We want it as close to the impact area as possible.”

Emotions ran high at the public hearing, and Settles added the attendees’ input is an important consideration when the EPA rules on the water quality certification being sought

by Ontario Land.

“It can influence the final decision,” he said, “and influence what happens prior to a final decision. There is great value to having these meetings. To have 100 people at one of these … doesn’t happen very often. That’s a

significant number.

“We are not interested in emotion as much as the content of the testimony. They’re going to weigh the potential impacts and see if there’s a way to make this project work.”

City Engineer Larry Griffith said Wednesday the city “has no jurisdiction or say-so over wetlands.”

“Up to this point, (Ontario Land/Oster) has gotten permission to do all they’ve done, except for one little place,” Griffith said. “For most subdivisions in North Ridgeville … it’s going to be little pockets of wetlands that they can easily get permission to fill. The plan for the area they want to impact now has not been approved by the city. The (final) design of what they build will depend on what area they are, or are not, allowed to

build in.”

He said builders typically appear before Planning Commission to get preliminary approval of their plans.

“If they get it, they go out and do the detailed plans,” Griffith explained, “ which includes a wetlands determination. Once they do that … they know which areas to avoid. In this particular case, the wetland area was so large, they came back and said this preliminary plan we had approved, ‘We can’t build it (without mitigation).’ Unless he hired someone to do a wetlands determination, you don’t know (where the wetlands are).”

Ontario Land can begin work at the site “if the EPA decides on the permit they will allow them to build according to the originally approved preliminary plans.”

As for the city’s stand on the matter, it needs an access road, which the builder’s plan would accommodate.

“On the original preliminary plans, there was to be another access to Stoney Ridge Road, and it is through that area,” Griffith said. “From the standpoint of access (for safety services, like police and fire), we would like to have it.”

Richard Ruby, a biologist with the regulatory branch of the ACE, said his office gets about 2,500 requests a year. It is necessary for the EPA to approve the Section 401 water quality permit first, in order for the ACE to even consider an application for approval of the wetland site’s dredging and filling (Section 404).

He said the ACE can reach a decision to deny any application, however, “regardless of what the Ohio EPA does.”

“Any time limit (for an ACE decision) is off the table because it’s an after-the-fact situation,” he explained. “We will spend as long as it takes to get the violation resolved.”

Ruby went on to say the builder has one year from the date of the ACE’s initial public notice to get its EPA permit approved. The public notice was issued May 22, 2009; the EPA has until May 21, 2010, he said, to make a

decision.

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