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Massive erosion along Ross Township creek moving toward family's home -- can anyone help?

Jeremy Vowell shows section of his property eroded by Dry Run Creek in Ross Township.png
Posted at 8:45 AM, Mar 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-30 16:47:21-04

ROSS TOWNSHIP, Ohio — Jeremy Vowell believed he had found the ideal home to raise his family.

The ranch-style house sat on a 3/4-acre lot at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac in Ross Township. The backyard sloped down to Dry Run Creek.

Vowell and his wife, Amanda, bought the property in 2009.

Jeremy Vowell
Jeremy Vowell

"It was peaceful," Vowell said.

But now, the once calm stream is literally ripping his dream property apart.

Vowell and officials with Ross Township government said the creek has eroded more than a 30-foot-wide section of his backyard, much of it in the last year.

"It's painful," Vowell said. "The last time it really got raging, I watched mature trees just disappear. It just rips them out."

Trees weakened by erosion fell into Dry Run Creek on March 18
Trees weakened by erosion fell into Dry Run Creek on March 18

The creek is clearly cutting a significantly wider channel in the direction of Vowell's house, said Brady Smith, one of the specialists with the Butler Soil and Water Conservation District who examined Vowell's property in recent weeks.

"If things like this go unchecked, it's certainly going to get worse," Smith said. "His property isn't the only one that's being affected."

Smith said the erosion along Dry Run Creek and other areas in Butler County is likely caused by a combination of factors that include more frequent intense storms, increased development, fewer native plants stabilizing banks and less effective stormwater runoff systems built decades ago.

Climate change and increasing development are responsible for a significant amount of erosion around the world, according to studies and government reports reviewed by the WCPO 9 I-Team.

Real estate records for Vowell's subdivision, Dry Run Estates, show it's the property owner's responsibility to maintain and repair the creek bank on their land.

But there's no government funding available to help protect private landowners along Dry Run Creek from the erosion, according to BSWCD District Director Kelly Crout.

Kelly Crout
Kelly Crout

"That is kind of a shortfall, and it is kind of disheartening, but that's where it stands right now," Crout said. "Everyone always wants someone else to pay for it or it's always someone else's fault. Sometimes, it's just what nature does and we kind of have to fight our battles."

The government needs to do more to help, Ross Township Administrator Robert Bass said.

"To just dump something like this on a private property owner is just not a responsible way of dealing with things," Bass said.

Bass told the I-Team that FEMA recently denied the township's request for a grant to study the erosion and help address possible solutions.

Robert Bass
Robert Bass

"I doubt it would have helped anyway, due to the amount of time it would have taken to complete it," Bass wrote Sunday in a text message response to the I-Team's questions. "When coupled with the immediacy of the need, I do not believe the help would have come in time."

Vowell said his frustration and concerns are growing.

"Everybody understands my situation, but I've yet to meet anyone who can do anything about it," Vowell said.

Possible solutions

The erosion problem was more dramatic and rapid in 2020 for property owners on the shore of Lake Erie in Geneva-on-the-Lake.

Some lakefront property eroded up to 35 feet in a week, according to WEWS, WCPO's sister station in Cleveland.

Village Administrator Jeremy Schaffer said Lake Erie's high water levels and failure to freeze caused much of the erosion that damaged critical infrastructure, including water and sewer lines, along with private land.

Repairs would have been very costly for some property owners, Schaffer said.

“Around $700 a foot is the average pricing for erosion control and repair,” Schaffer told WEWS.

In response to the growing problem, the village came up with a $1 million plan to fund repairs. According to WEWS, the Ohio Public Works Commission is using a grant to pay for part of the project.

The village is paying for most of it through a five-year levy approved by voters.

But Crout said there's no current funding mechanism like that for property owners along Dry Run Creek.

"Maybe all those property owners have to be assessed tax-wise" to enable a combined effort to make affordable repairs along the creek, Crout said.

Brady Smith
Brady Smith

Smith said property owners along rivers and streams must apply for permits allowing them to take action to protect their land from erosion.

The Corps of Engineers has permit rights on the creek, Smith said.

Vowell said it's unclear what type of work needs to be done to protect his property and how much a project like that might cost.

"This is why we recommend that neighborhoods work together on solutions for things like this," Smith said.

Even with proper permits, Vowell said, he's afraid to try to stop the erosion on his own because he may create a bigger problem for someone else and be held responsible for it.

"I feel handcuffed," Vowell said. "My problem is: How long can I wait?"

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