City waiting for answers from EPA

The city of Reynoldsburg still is awaiting answers regarding whether the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to implement required setbacks along waterways.

In 2003, the EPA granted Reynoldsburg permission to direct storm water into local streams. The city received the permit with the understanding that by 2005 it would have an ordinance in place restricting development along waterways.

As 2009 quickly approaches, the city has not yet made good on its part of the deal, city development director Lucas Haire said.

The EPA requires that land within 25 feet of a waterway remain in its natural state – no development and no mowing. For areas in flood plains, the restricted area extends the length of the flood plain. For some portions of Blacklick Creek, for example, the flood plain is 250 feet wide, Haire said.

The restrictions affect new development only. Had the city created the ordinance earlier, the new Target store would not exist due to its proximity to Blacklick Creek, Haire said.

"We’re messing with people’s individual property rights," City Council president William Hills said. "Why are we going to go and dictate to the common person that the 250 feet you had to grow on you can’t grow on anymore?"

Councilman Mel Clemens said that if a stream crossed through the middle of a property, the owner would have to "let weeds grow over 50 feet of their yard that they cannot even go across with a bridge."

Councilman Ron Stake said he has problems with the new regulations.

"I have serious concerns with the federal government telling the citizens they cannot mow the grass by their stream," he said. "We are here to protect the citizens from (infringements upon their property rights). I look at this ordinance as taking someone’s property."

The council placed the ordinance on hold until the city attorney determines if the EPA "has the authority to mandate upon us a setback as strict as 25 feet," city attorney Jed Hood said.

"I don’t know what (the EPA) would do," Hood said. "They could potentially impose fines, or not allow new permits."

Clemens and Hills said they are in no rush to pass the ordinance.

"Some wine is not ready to drink yet and this is not ready to drink," Hills said.

Haire said the city obviously has passed the 2005 deadline, therefore he saw no need to hurry either. But Hood said it’s important to resolve the issue as soon as possible.

"Permits are issued and reissued. If we agreed (to enforce setbacks) and we failed to do so, we would definitely put our permit in jeopardy and probably peril," Hood told council.

Once Hood determines if the EPA allows for flexibility, he will report his findings to the council at the next committee meeting Dec. 15.

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