Council discusses problems with stormwater, speeding, parking, Elberta

By Karen Cornelius

Stormwater on Liberty: City council’s Utilities Committee met on Monday night, June 12, where councilman Fred Ostrander brought up the stormwater problems coming off Liberty concerning the Erie and Morton roads area. He said there is a six-inch pipe at the end of Erie and an eight-inch toward Portland and six-inches by Niagara. He said the pipes are undersized and should be upgraded to handle the stormwater. He asked what they can do about the situation. City engineer Lynn Miggins said she has found some plans and will bring them to the next committee meeting. She said a section of the sewer was replaced.

Councilwoman Barb Brady thought there was a section replaced near Crystal Cove which connects Morton to the west. Miggins said there was not a simple solution and it was an economic issue. She said a real solution would be a big stormwater sewer down Elberta to take water to the lake. Ostrander suggested a ditch toward Portland would be less expensive. Miggins responded that Herk took the flow to Portland. Council president Steve Herron agreed with Ostrander that they need to talk about the problem.

Elberta Road ditch/pavement failure: Councilman Ostrander said he has received calls about the Elberta Road ditch depth, its location, and the road pavement failure. He did go down to Elberta Road and said the ditch was awful and a serious size which residents didn’t expect. He said the road itself is failing, and people are having a hard time maintaining the ditch it is so deep. He said they are using weed-killer to spray which is not working.

City engineer Miggins said she did drive the road and was disappointed on how the road held up. She said there are big trucks using Elberta with very heavy loads of stone and those possibly could be the culprits. She said the city doesn’t have truck scales. Councilwoman Brady asked if they could limit the loads on certain roads. Miggins stated that with city projects they do specify which roads contractors can use, but there are no load limits for trucks in general. This would be a legal question.

Mayor Eileen Bulan said unfortunately there is no other way to get to the lake but four streets. Councilman Frank Loucka suggested they get the cost and repair the failure. Ostrander thought there could be signs on the roads and these truck companies could make other choices such as using smaller trucks. “The street is now trashed. People were happy with the repaving and now this area is getting away from us,” said Ostrander.

Council president Herron asked if they could work with the property owners and fill the ditch using pipe. Councilwoman Brady said the city did have a pipe program with property owners paying for materials and the city doing the installation. Councilman Loucka said the residents did have this option to enclose the ditch but they didn’t want to pay for it. Brady, as Utilities chair, said they should look at this again.

From the audience, a new Edgewater resident pointed out another drainage problem near Erie and Edgewater where there is an elevation jump of nine inches on the line so the water just lays there because it can’t go uphill. Mayor Bulan said this is on the service director’s list to follow up.

Fire chief’s report: The Health and Safety Committee met after Utilities. Vermilion fire chief Chris Stempowski reported 20 incidents in May with a total so far this year at 110 incidents. He said the work on fire station #2 parking lot started on Monday, June 12. He asked that citizens not park on fire department property because it could delay the contractor’s progress. There are “no parking” signs posted but people are not paying attention to them. He said they are getting a quote to repair the roof on fire station #1 on Ohio Street. Shingles on the northside have to be replaced and on the bell tower. They also have to repair the flashing. The chief said training and testing such as self-rescue is completed, and they are preparing for the fireworks show on Friday, June 16. He is additionally working with service director Tony Valerius on the nonworking hydrants.

Junkyard potential income: The Finance Committee met after Health and Safety. Finance director Brian Keller said he was pursuing councilman Ostrander’s question about receiving some tax income from the business storing inoperable/junk vehicles at the eastern end of Liberty Avenue. Keller said this is owned by Insurance Auto Auctions of Lorain, Ohio and there is withholding for the city of Lorain. He said on the city’s side there are two employees at this “overflow” yard on rotation shifts with someone there daily so there seems like some income tax should be witheld for Vermilion. He said his calls have been passed around from person to person and he is still waiting for someone to contact him about this matter.

Financing watermain replacements: Finance director Keller said he talked to the city’s bond counsel about financing the 25-year waterman replacement program presented to council by city engineer Miggins. The thought was a bond issue to do a large chunk of this program rather than a few lines at a time over 25 years. Keller said this bond issue was not recommended as a first option. He said they could try the Ohio Water Development Authority for a loan under four percent interest. He said the OWDA will send him an application, but they have to figure out how to pay back the loan, and the cost for the project. Keller said this is a possibility and he will meet with the city engineer. Councilwoman Brady asked if this would be a good economic step. City engineer Miggins said there would be some pluses such as a larger project attracting more contractors. Doing more projects sooner than later would eliminate yearly inflation over 25 years and avoid repairing lines later. This topic will go back on the Finance agenda next month.

New stormwater fee for commercial: Councilman Ostrander said since letters have gone out on the new fee monthly charges for stormwater there are many little businesses/storefronts that are not happy with the $30 fee going to $60 in another year. He said they should be business friendly and this new fee was not, and little storefront owners were stuck. Ostrander said while he understands why this fee was created to solve stormwater problems, this was not the right thing to do and apply it this way to small business, especially little stores downtown. He said a larger scale shopping center should not be paying the same fee. The city engineer responded that those with a $30 fee have five to six times the impervious area than a house. Ostrander asked if this was the best they could do because it was not business friendly forcing people to pay this fee.

Councilwoman Brady suggested they could look at the fees again. Council president Herron disagreed and said at the time they did the best they could as a group. They had even talked about higher fees. He said the fees are due to the hard surface on owners properties. While he understands why some are unhappy, Herron said they had to do something.

No parking on Park Drive: The Legislative Committee met after Finance to discuss “no parking” signs to place on Park Drive. From the audience Cindy Andrews, a Vermilion Lagoons Association board member, said she is glad Huggy’s has found some alternative parking. However, her concern is the 54 houses on Park Drive who are challenged to come in and out onto Liberty. She asked to eliminate any parking on the Park Drive section opposite Huggy’s where the former Burley business was. Legislative chair Loucka stated that parking is not allowed there because there is not enough right-of-way and no curbs. He said the city already has an ordinance to that affect on the books.

Speeding on Portage Drive: The Streets, Buildings, and Grounds Committee met after Legislative. Chairman Jim Forthofer introduced Portage resident Tom Zeck who had safety concerns to express. Zeck stated that speeding on this street was not new, but was getting worse. With summer there were too many children and walkers out. While some residents themselves speed there are also delivery trucks and lawn people driving too fast with the street becoming a dragway. He said there are no sidewalks or curbs and in some places the street is less than 20 feet wide. He asked for signs and striping to help. He asked about speed humps which are not as high as speed bumps and those radar signs telling people what their speed is. Zeck also wondered if the 25-mile-an-hour speed limit could be lowered.

Police chief Chris Hartung said he sat on Portage Drive himself and noted that contractors and groundskeepers were a problem as well as some residents. He said those speed trailers showing the speed limit of drivers were expensive, $20,000-$25,000, and he could not afford that in his budget. He would put an officer there, but someone has to volunteer a driveway. He said speeding complaints go throughout the city, not just the Lagoons, and there are only three guys per shift. To lower the speed limit, they need crash data. If there was interest in speed humps, council would need a petition.

City engineer Miggins stated that the state codes on traffic control do not cover these humps and Vermilion would have to do its own ordinance. She did point out humps are annoying to many drivers, they create noise, and are an issue with snowplowing. Zeck added that even signs would at least raise the conscience level of drivers. Mayor Bulan said they can get more signage. Councilman Loucka said that they could investigate all the city streets that have no sidewalks and narrow width and lower the speed limit by making another classification for these problem-area streets which could be 20 mph.

After more discussion, chair Forthofer said they could get signs for 25 mph and continue police patrols, but he was not sure what else they could do right now that would be viable unless they change the speed limit which would require an ordinance.

Erie County beach results: Streets chair Forthofer said he had a concern about the sign at Main Street Beach placed by Erie County Health giving the Lake Erie water quality for swimmers. So far this year after testing, there has been a high-level advisory six times warning people not to go into the water. Yet, he said, he sees people wading in because they cannot see the sign which doesn’t face the water. He asked the sign be relocated to see warnings. Mayor Bulan said she will call Erie County Health and have the sign relocated.

Streets project planning: A power point scheduled for the evening by Forthofer concerning long-term planning for street repairs was cancelled and placed back on the Streets agenda for next month due to technical difficulties.

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