Jerusalem Twp. fears the risk of a levee breach this fall

Kelly J. Kaczala

        Jerusalem Township trustees on July 11 met with officials from the Metroparks of Toledo, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Howards Farms Conservancy, and the Lucas County Engineer’s office to express their concerns about weakened dikes in the township that could cause severe flooding following heavy rains, such as a Nor’easter expected in the fall.
        Trustee David Bench said the main dike on Ward’s Canal could break.
        “The dike is real bad,” said Bench. “If it breaks, we could see water go down Hoard Road, flood by Bunting, and keep going right to Reno Beach.”
        He said someone told him not to worry because “we have pumps.”
        “But we’re talking about millions of gallons of water. The lake will come in from the back. That’s what’s going to happen if we don’t get it fixed.”
        But who is responsible to fix it?
        Bob Remmers, who manages the Levee Safety program for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said it wasn’t the corps’ responsibility.
        The Levee Safety program covers flood control projects and erosion control of stream banks and shorelines, he said.
        “These are generally projects that the corps of engineers built and turned over to a non federal sponsor for operations and maintenance. We do not maintain and operate those projects,” he said.
        Remmers said there were parts of the dike that were severely eroded.
        “We call them half dikes. That’s what they are. If they keep eroding, and the water stays this high or higher - and it breaks through - you’re going to get wet. We’re talking lake levels. It will keep pouring in and you won’t be able to stop it. That would be a real big problem,” he said.
        “There’s one continuous line of protection around this community, from Reno Beach and Howard Farms,” said Remmers. “It’s made of two segments: There is the corps portion, which is managed by the Reno Beach and Howard Farms Conservancy District. The rest of the system we don’t have anything to do with. But someone owns it and operates it. We’re not sure who those entities are. That may be subject to debate. It’s not the corps.  The segment is not part of the federal levee system. A majority of the protection of Reno Beach and Howard Farms is not part of the federal system. The main portion is along Lake Erie, then it comes in a little bit on the Cooley Canal side. So what are the goals of the levee safety program?  You want to assess the integrity of flood risk management projects and recommend actions to take to make sure that project is maintained and in acceptable condition and that we’re not presenting unacceptable risks to property. It’s important to know what those risks are.  There’s always risks involved in levee projects. They are never 100 percent safe. It’s important for the public to understand what those risks are.”
Emergency action plan
        Remmers said it was good to have an emergency action plan for the community in case of severe flooding.
        “It explains what the community is going to do in an emergency. Who are the contact names? What supplies and equipment do you have? Is there sand? Sand bags that you can get on short notice? You want people to be familiar with an emergency action plan. Everyone who is involved knows what they are supposed to do when the time comes. There should also be an evacuation plan that is shared with the public. When you give a warning, they should know where they have to go and how soon they need to get out. If you do that before a disaster, it’s a lot easier than when you have a disaster and you have to tell people what to do,” said Remmers.
        He recommended that the township should do a flood control study.
        “We cannot do that. We can’t start designing a flood control project for the township without doing a full blown study.”
        Mike Pniewski, assistant Lucas County Engineer, said it was the Reno Beach/Howard Farms Conservancy District that is responsible for fixing that part of the dike.
        Trustees, he said, have to make a request to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for funding.
        “They have to look for money. And you’re competing with others all across the country. It will probably be a few years before the money is available. It’s a very long process. It’s a decades long process,” said Pniewski.
        “We don’t have the time,” said Bench.
“Otherwise, essentially, flood control is the province of the conservancy,” said Pniewski. “The conservancy district could hire a consultant to do a study and assess the cost.”
        Remmers said he will check with his office regarding possible assistance due to the high water level.
        “They might be able to do something,” he said. “There might be some technical assistance in there somewhere. We’ll check into that. We have built temporary structures in the area, Point Place being one. Reno Beach was another one. We did temporary protection here. In the 90s, we came back and built a permanent project for Reno. So we can check to see if there’s any potential for advance measures around here and see what they say. I don’t know if it has to be declared a disaster. That might be the caveat.”
        “If we get a three day Nor’easter, at 40 miles per hour, those dikes are going to break,” said Bench. “We’re going to be in an emergency here real quick. It’s going to happen this fall.” Bench said he has seen water just inches from the top of the dike on Howard Road.
        The Reno Beach/Howard Farms Conservancy District encompasses approximately 2,100 acres of land located on the south shore of Lake Erie. The boundaries of the district extend between the mouth of the Cooley Creek on the west, and Wards Canal on the east with a long frontage of about 15,400 feet.



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