Conservancy Court approves creation of Clear Fork Subdistrict

June 7, 2014

A community effort now will begin to review the causes of and develop potential solutions to prevent and reduce flooding along the Clear Fork of the Mohican River in Richland County.

Judges of the 18-member Conservancy Court in the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD) have approved a petition from officials in Richland County to create the Clear Fork Subdistrict of the MWCD, and its goal will be to develop a plan to address the flooding that has occurred along the Clear Fork more frequently in recent years.

“We certainly feel that working with the MWCD through the subdistrict process will be the best way to have our issues reviewed and addressed,” said Mayor Darrell Banks of the Village of Bellville, which submitted the petition to the Court.

The process to develop and implement any plan will take many years and will involve public input and review, according to MWCD and Richland County officials who have been involved in the request to create the Clear Fork Subdistrict.

The Conservancy Court approved the petition during its session held Saturday (June 7) in the Tuscarawas County Courthouse at New Philadelphia. According to conservancy district law, the Conservancy Court holds the authority to approve or reject requests for subdistricts. The Conservancy Court, a Court of Common Pleas, includes one common pleas court judge from each of the 18 counties where the MWCD has jurisdiction, including Richland County.

The petition included resolutions of support from many other local governments, including Richland County commissioners, the City of Ontario, the villages of Butler and Lexington, as well as several townships and the Richland County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD). Judges heard statements during the Court session in support of the petition from Banks and John Hildreth, program administrator for the Richland County SWCD.

Banks and Hildreth each informed the Court about frequent flooding that has occurred in recent years along the Clear Fork of the Mohican River, and their desire that the newly created subdistrict will seek potential solutions to the flooding problems that have plagued several Richland County communities located within the Clear Fork watershed.

The MWCD, with assistance from leaders in the Clear Fork area communities, will begin the process to develop the required plan that will detail the causes of flooding in the Clear Fork watershed, the potential projects to reduce the flooding and the benefits that will be developed for property owners and residents through activation of the plan.

The entire watershed of the Clear Fork is located primarily in southern Richland County, with smaller portions in southern Ashland, northern Knox and northeastern Morrow counties. The requested Clear Fork Subdistrict boundary is limited to Richland County only, as stressed by Banks and Hildreth.

The process that led to the creation of the Clear Fork Subdistrict began nearly a year ago. In July 2013, State Rep. Mark J. Romanchuk, R-Ontario, hosted a meeting to discuss flooding issues in the Richland County region that included officials from around the county, as well as the MWCD and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). In the weeks after the meeting, leaders of the Clear Fork area communities contacted MWCD and held several follow-up meetings to determine the viability of a subdistrict request.

The Clear Fork Subdistrict creation comes three years after officials in the City of Shelby in Richland County were successful in having their request granted by the Conservancy Court for reactivation of the Black Fork Subdistrict of the MWCD to address flooding woes along the Black Fork of the Mohican River, which is located north of the Clear Fork.

The Ohio law dealing with conservancy districts permits separate subdistricts to function within or partially within an existing conservancy district. The MWCD has one other active subdistrict operating within it. The Chippewa Subdistrict is located in portions of northern Wayne and southern Medina counties. Formed in the 1960s, the Chippewa Subdistrict later enacted a plan that led to the construction of eight small dams and 33 miles of channel improvements along the Chippewa Creek to reduce the effects of flooding in that watershed.

The MWCD, a political subdivision of the state, was organized in 1933 to develop and implement a plan to reduce flooding and conserve water for beneficial public uses in the Muskingum River Watershed, the largest wholly contained watershed in Ohio. Since their construction, the 16 reservoirs and dams in the MWCD region have been credited for saving an estimated $11.1 billion worth of potential property damage from flooding, according to the federal government, as well as providing popular recreational opportunities that bolster the region’s economy. A significant portion of the reservoirs are managed by the MWCD and the dams are managed for flood-risk management by the federal U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).

For more information about the MWCD, visit www.mwcd.org and follow the MWCD on Facebook and Twitter.

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