Van Harlingen

3rd Ward Council member Jon Van Harlingen speaks during a discussion regarding the engineering/design effort for the Touby Run Flood Mitigation Hazard Project. 

MANSFIELD -- Joe and Reba Matern asked Mansfield City Council five months ago to resurrect and move ahead with a dry dam plan to mitigate flooding in the north end.

They were more than willing to wait until Tuesday night for an answer.

After council -- which has discussed, debated and delayed a decision on a $1.6 million design/engineering effort for the dam in North Lake Park -- finally voted unanimously to proceed, the Materns asked permission to say thanks.

Council President David Falquette, despite the fact the public participation portion of the evening had long since ended, invited the owners of Matern Metal Works Inc., 210 N. Adams St., to step to the microphone.

"Thank you. We appreciate all your support," Reba Matern said. "And for the people who are going to come after us that this is so important for ... to give them a safe and better way to make a future for our town. We thank you."

Joe and Reba Matern

Reba and Joe Matern thank members of Mansfield City Council on Tuesday evening for approving an engineering/design study for a dry dam in North Lake Park.

COMMENTS SPURRED ACTION

It was public comment by the Materns at City Council in April that spurred on a five-month effort to move forward with the Touby Run Flood Mitigation Hazard Project, a $16.5 million project aimed at removing 106 acres of homes and businesses from the city's north end flood plain.

The project, which had been discussed and worked on for several years, was shelved in 2019 while the city proceeded with a $17 million citywide water meter replacement program aimed at improving revenues by more accurately measuring usage.

No members of City Council have opposed the project. But there has been much discussion regarding the city's ability to pay for the work from its sewer fund, largely led by 3rd Ward Councilman Jon Van Harlingen, chair of council's finance and public utilities committee.

Van Harlingen has pointed out the city has taken on more than $50 million in bond debt in recent years, including $10 million for state-mandated improvements at the wastewater treatment plant and $35 million for state-mandated improvements at the water treatment plant.

But after Mayor Tim Theaker announced plans last week to allocate $3 million of the city's American Rescue Plan Act dollars to an ongoing emergency storm sewer project and other water/sewer efforts, Van Harlingen agreed to go ahead with the engineering and design.

The $3 million is part of the $10.5 million in federal ARPA funds the city received this year. Mansfield will receive another $10.5 million next year. The mayor's planned first-year ARPA spending plan is scheduled for a council vote Oct. 5.

"Federal money," Van Harlingen said after the meeting in explaining his change of heart. "We still got some issues concerning some water and sewer funds and we are coming up on budget hearings in the near future. But that $10 million was a major, major factor."

Approval of the two-year design/engineering study doesn't mean the dam will be built. At an estimated cost of $16 to $18 million, the idea is to create a shovel-ready project the city can use in seeking future federal and state grants.

"I was planning this evening ... we have a letter that was CC'd to members of Mansfield City Council from the Ohio EPA, a notice of violation (that) I was considering it might be worth going through and looking at that tonight, along with some other things," Van Harlingen said before the vote.

"But in light of the (federal money) we are receiving, and is being recommended by the administration, by the mayor, I think I would like to postpone some of this information until maybe we get to the budget hearings, which might be more appropriate."

Alomar Davenport

4th Ward Council member Alomar Davenport speaks in favor of the North Lake Park dry dam on Tuesday evening.

FULL SUPPORT

There was no hesitation from other City Council members before the vote, nor from those who participated in the public portion of the evening, including Jodie Perry, president/CEO of Richland Area Chamber & Economic Development.

"The Chamber has stood in favor of this project since the city first publicly talked about it in 2017. The flooding that affects the north end neighborhood and the northern part of of downtown, including some of the historic industrial areas, has caused a concerning disinvestment in an important part of our community," Perry said.

"As our community continues to work together to further the revitalization we are currently seeing, it's important that we remove barriers that will stifle future growth and investment.

"The Touby's Run project as currently proposed would remove about 106 acres in downtown Mansfield from the floodplain, making it prime real estate for future expansion and would also better protect the businesses, organizations and residents that are within that area that faced the constant threat of flooding," Perry said.

Several council members joined in expressing support for the plan before the vote was taken.

One of those was 4th Ward representative Alomar Davenport, who suggested at a recent meeting that ARPA funds for the emergency storm water project could help ease concerns over the dry dam engineering/design.

"I just want to emphasize the significance of what the (city) administration has done with the American Rescue Plan and the impact it will have on this particular bill," Davenport said.

"Everyone on council at one point or another has expressed support for this dry dam. The big concern has been the finances and I recognize that concern is legitimate. Anytime you make an investment, and that's what this is, there is inherent risk that is involved and there is a fear that comes with that. There is a scariness that comes with that.

"Those who have been successful in, say, the financial world break through that fear and make that investment necessary to come out the other end in a better form. That is what we are trying to do here," Davenport said.

Stephanie Zader

Republican Stephanie Zader, an At-large member of Mansfield City Council, spoke against 2022-2023 committee assignments made by Democrats, who have a 5-3 edge among voting members.

At-large council member Stephanie Zader said council was not deciding on the actual dam construction Tuesday night.

"We're deciding on getting the engineering completed so that we can go after funding for the rest of the project. This is a significant investment. We've heard from a lot of members of the community in support of it. Everything that I've heard has been in support of it, the citizens want this, the community leaders want this because they know the impact that this will have in the long-term on our community," Zader said.

"That's what investment is. We will see a return on this. There is no doubt about that. The impact this flooding is having on that area of town is dire," she said.

Jason Lawrence

5th Ward Council member Jason Lawrence speaks in favor of the design and engineering effort that could lead to a dry dam at North Lake Park.

Jason Lawrence, who represents the 5th Ward, said he has been the "hugest proponent" of the dry dam.

"I thank everybody for getting it to this point. I also want to thank the Materns for coming back and bringing it to our attention, bringing this forward, moving it forward, going out and talking with them, understanding flood insurance and the burden what that is on people.

"I'm grateful that we are  moving this forward and that we will be voting tonight to move our city forward," Lawrence said.

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City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when the page was blank?"