Flooding in Bellbrook has led to the need for more than $7 million in road repairs and high waters in the area this year have cut off roads and swamped a village park.
City planners say while the costs of dealing with the problem are high, it is not clear whether flooding is occurring more now, rainstorms are becoming more intense or if the area’s recent development is a factor.
“I think more people are just paying attention now,” said Rhett Rohrer, owner of River’s Edge Outfitters and principal officer of the Little Miami Conservancy.
Bellbrook is seeking funds to shore up Little Sugarcreek Road, part of which fell away and was closed for repairs earlier this year. The Bellbrook Lions Club wants to relocate the baseball and softball programs to a new park because of the frequency of flooding at Sackett-Wright Park off Ohio 725.
New developments - like those in the Cornerstone development and along Feedwire Road - can create more stormwater runoff but there are ways to mitigate that, according to Mike Ekberg, manager of water monitoring and analysis at the Miami Conservancy District. This year at least there has been an increase in heavy rain events, he said.
“All things being equal, an inch of rain falling on a developed watershed area compared to an undeveloped watershed, you’re going to have more runoff,” Ekberg said. “Anecdotally, we are seeing more rainfall and the intensity of storms increasing … we expect to continue experiencing big rain events.”
Little Sugarcreek Road
Shoring up Little Sugarcreek calls for installing pillars underneath the road and total costs are estimated at $7.2 million, which is more than the city of Bellbrook’s annual budget, according to City Manager Melissa Dodd.
Dodd said traffic has increased on Little Sugarcreek as more homes and commercial destinations have been built in and around the city.
“The communities that we are downstream from affect us in terms of runoff and potential for increased flooding if development is not done responsibly,” Dodd said. “The addition of so much pavement and other solid surfaces increase runoff that needs to be handled appropriately. Understanding how a particular development is going to impact the environment is important to us all.”
A large section of guardrail was replaced along the east side of Little Sugarcreek where the road sunk about 12 inches following a series of recent rains. City workers also hauled in concrete to fill in the edge of the roadway, a practice that’s been done periodically for many years, city officials said.
Bellbrook funded an engineer’s study that concluded the bedrock underneath the road, which parallels Little Sugar Creek, is faltering and needs reinforcement. According to one city worker, the path that water flows in the creek changes because of debris left from flooding and the water is now cutting into the base of the road.
While farmers at one time may have used equipment to clear debris and sediment in streams to maintain the same water channel, Rohrer said permits are now required for such work by multiple governing bodies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Ohio Division of Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Agency.
“We just removed a small dam (on the Little Miami River) off U.S. 68. We needed at least four approvals before we could do the work,” said Rohrer, who does cut away fallen trees every year to keep the river viable for canoes and kayaks.
Baseball and softball games at Sackett-Wright Park were put on-hold for three weeks in the spring because of flooding. Every year, at least one high-water event is expected to temporarily close Ohio 725 and the park, which often must be cleaned up and in some cases repaired.
John Dorn, Bellbrook Lions Club Athletic Committee chairman, was a member of the parks commission in the 1980s when Sackett-Wright Park was built. Dorn said back then flooding of the park was a problem once every few years.
“We are in a flood plain. We know it’s going to happen, but it wasn’t near as often as it is now,” Dorn said.
The Lions Club is committing $110,000 to developing athletic fields at a different park. Dorn said he has pitched the idea to the local parks district to develop Berryhill Park for that purpose, but there seems to be no interest.
“When we built the park it used to flood, but it’s more serious now than it ever was,” Dorn said. “I don’t know if we’ve had more rain, but it flooded three times this past spring.”
ODNR in the spring cut down trees and removed debris left from previous flooding in Little Sugar Crreek where it runs parallel to Ohio 725 south of the park. A Bellbrook city official said the debris in the creek is one factor leading to more flooding and more work needs to be done to clear the creek from the bridge near Dot’s Market on West Franklin Street to the other side of the park.
Flooding frequency and stemming the tide
Rohrer, who has been around the Little Miami River and its watershed areas for about 36 years, said he doesn’t think there’s been an increase of flooding, recalling big floods from the 1980s and ’90s.
“We don’t necessarily believe that increased development will automatically lead to an increase in the frequency of flooding,” Rohrer said.
Rohrer said in addition to detention and retention ponds, developers can incorporate rain gardens, which feature shrubs and perennial plants planted in low lying areas to stem the flow of stormwater runoff.
“The bottom line is the river is very healthy even in spite of the tremendous amount of growth that’s happened over the years,” said Eric Partee, executive director of the Little Miami Conservancy. “It wasn’t that way 20 years ago, but there was a concerted effort to ratchet down on the phosphorus loading coming from treatment plants.”
The U.S. Geological Survey maintains and monitors gauges that are stationed at various locations along the Little Miami River. Data collected from the gauge located in the Spring Valley area shows the river met or exceeded the flood stage five times from January 2018 to the present.
Ekberg of the Miami Valley Conservancy District, which provides flood protection for the Great Miami River basin, said it takes considerable planning on the part of developers and governing bodies to properly manage and control stormwater runoff.
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“If you have a stream that has enough room to do its work, if you don’t have buildings encroaching upon it, the stream will take care of build-ups of debris,” Ekberg said. “I think people are more aware and are trying to manage stormwater and runoff, but I think there’s still a lot of room for developers to minimize their developments’ footprint.”
In the Highview Terrace development by Clemens Companies, east of Little Sugarcreek Road, builders are using rubber skirting to prevent soil and gravel from spilling into the roadways. Absorbent threshholds are in place at storm drains on the street to further slow water flows and debris from the construction sites.
“In a perfect world, we keep our roads and infrastructure at some distance from the stream to give them room to meander, but in a developed world, that’s not always possible,” Ekberg said.
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