Brecksville Continues Fight Against New Stormwater Fees in 2011
The city law director said Brecksville manages its own stormwater and that the new fee wouldn’t benefit the city.
Residents’ sewer bills are going to keep to rising in the coming years – for a variety of reasons. Brecksville is one of more than a dozen communities in Cuyahoga and Summit Counties that says at least one of those reasons stinks – and is fighting the new fees in court.
Last year, the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD) began moving forward on a new stormwater management plan for the communities in the district. It wanted to manage more than just waste moving through the sewer pipes as it had in the past: it also wanted the authority to manage stormwater. When it rains, stormwater runs off roads, rooftops, lawns, construction sites and driveways, picking up pollutants and draining into the waterways.
“It causes flooding and erosion problems that cost millions of dollars,” said Kyle Dreyfuss-Wells, NEORSD manager of watershed programs.
Stormwater management was a big priority for the district when it was created in 1972, she said. But in the decades since then, the authority has focused mostly on wastewater.
Last January, the district’s board voted to reassert its management authority over stormwater. And now it wants the courts to bless this decision.
“We asked the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas to issue declaratory judgment to say we have authority to implement the stormwater program in the 62 communities we serve,” said NEORSD spokeswoman Jennifer Elting.
Under the regional stormwater plan, the average homeowner would pay $4.75 per month for the new stormwater fees. Everyone else, including schools, churches, apartments and businesses, would pay $4.75 per month for every 3,000 square feet of impervious surface, which causes run-off. For example, a business with a 250-car parking lot with 120,000 square feet of hard surface area would be charged $190 per month.
“It’s time they start paying for what they contribute to the problem,” Elting said.
But Brecksville is one of about a dozen cities, including Cleveland Heights and Strongsville, fighting NEORSD in court to prevent it from implementing the regional stormwater program.
“They don’t have the authority to levy this fee and manage all these facilities, so they went to court to sue all the suburbs,” said City Law Director Paul Grau.
“To me, it’s just a money grab,” Grau added.
Grau said Brecksville already is managing its own stormwater problems. He said the city has spent $6 million to $7 million on various projects, such as a new retention basin in Broadview Heights, which relieves flooding into Brecksville.
Grau said city residents should know their money is being spent on projects that will benefit them. Of the regional effort, he said, “We’ll get nothing out of it whatsoever.”
Grau said the communities that will benefit are the ones who haven’t managed the stormwater on their own.
“Our main concern is that they are not doing this the right way, and residents are not sure they can trust the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District to manage this project,” Grau said.
But Dreyfuss-Wells said flooding and erosion are regional issues, especially in Brecksville, because the Cuyahoga River runs through it. Brecksville also includes the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and is at the bottom of a hill.
“The park gets hammered by floods caused by Brecksville,” Dreyfuss-Wells added.
Dreyfuss-Wells said the city recently turned down the opportunity to study the problem with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“Brecksville shouldn’t have to pay for flooding and erosion caused by upstream communities,” said Dreyfuss-Wells. “But if Brecksville tries to solve problems by moving water downstream, it’s just moving the problem.”
The trial on the dispute is scheduled in July. The rate hike is on hold until a decision is made in court.