BY CHRISTINE WOLFF
The Cincinnati Enquirer
READING -- Two agreements signed Friday on the banks of the Mill Creek aim to help ensure a cleaner and less flood-prone future for Hamilton County's much-abused waterway.
The agreements launched a two-year, $2.5 million study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to decide how to complete a flood-control project abandoned in 1991. In addition, the agreements committed several creek-side communities and interest groups, which volunteered to help pay for the re-evaluation study.
It's too much studying and not enough action for some business owners along the Mill Creek, where flooding has been more severe in recent years.
"We've been located out here for the past 30 years," said Fred Caston, owner of Cincinnati Pool and Patio in Evendale, which flooded April 16. "And over the past three years, we've been flooded twice. "If this survey does last two years, I wonder what is going to happen to my business and the other businesses."
In Reading's Koenig Park alongside the slow-moving, brown waters of the Mill Creek, Corps officials from Louisville signed the agreements. Signing, too, were officials from the city of Cincinnati, the village of Evendale, the Millcreek Valley Conservancy District, the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments and the Mill Creek Watershed Council.
"Gone are the days when the nation wanted streams replaced by man-made structures," said Col. Harry Spear, commander of the Louisville Engineer District. "Our goal is to get a balance between a well-engineered project and environmentally sensitive solutions."
Audrey Privett, public works director for Sharonville, watched the ceremony and worried, too, about the two-year -- and longer -- wait for relief.
"We could wipe out a lot of Sharonville by then," she said. "We needed something done two years ago. We're getting flooding -- severe flooding. We've got tractor-trailers floating. Our needs are immediate."
The study will look at the Hamilton County drainage basin of the Mill Creek, which begins in Butler County's Liberty Township and meanders south the length of Hamilton County into the Ohio River. The creek, a vital waterway for early settlers, has suffered over the years from industrial pollution and sewer overflows.
In 1991, the flood-control project was 43 percent complete, with about eight miles of the creek's lower portion straightened and forced into a deep, concrete channel. Criticism from environmentalists and the project's climbing cost forced the corps to suspend work. The corps has no plans to continue widespread use of the concrete-channel approach, said John Zimmerman, the corps project manager. But it's also unlikely, because of the money invested, that the corps will tear up the concrete to return to a natural creek bank, he said. "We will look at ways for softening" the project's first phase, he said.
Local communities and interest groups will pay about 24 percent of the study, about $590,575 in cash and in-kind services. About $1.9 million will come from the federal government.
The agreements also state that the corps will repair damage from erosion, deterioration and silt build up along the concrete channel, then turn over full maintenance responsibilities to the Millcreek Valley Conservancy District. The district, a political jurisdiction established in 1962, also will maintain new sections of the creek as flood-control measures are completed.
Ralph Brewer, general manager of Kenworth of Cincinnati in Sharonville, wants to see development slowed to the north. Runoff from development -- where acres of concrete replace land that once soaked up water -- is blamed for much of the recent flooding.
"There ought not to be another building permit issued north of here until they solve the problem with flooding in Mill Creek," Mr. Brewer said. "We don't need continuous studies done on this problem. There have been enough studies done on this already over the past 10 years.
"What we want and need is action." Kevin Aldridge contributed to this report.