Aurora -- Following a 30-day public comment period, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency announced Dec. 24 that it will award the city $4.7 million to restore and protect more than a mile of the Aurora branch of the Chagrin River.
The decision, announced by Ohio EPA Director Scott Nally, means the city will receive the funding through the Water Resource Restoration Sponsor Program to acquire 186 acres of Aurora Golf Club property.
"The city is glad the takeover is coming to fruition," said Mayor James Fisher. "We expect the deal to close by the end of the first quarter of 2013."
The director's decision may be appealed to the Environmental Review Appeals Commission (ERAC). Many appeals must be filed within 30 days of issuing the final action; therefore, Ohio EPA recommends that anyone wishing to file an appeal contact ERAC at 614- 466-8950 for more information.
"The acquisition is a great thing for some residents, and has caused anxiety for others since some people don't want to see the old course go away," said Fisher. "It's a great course, but the city has no desire to keep it operating since it would be a financial drain."
The city submitted its application for the Chagrin River protection and restoration project to the Ohio EPA in September 2012 after the proposal was approved by City Council in May 2012.
"ENVIRONMENTAL gains to be realized from Aurora's restoration project are enormous," Nally said. "The city's proposal for this impaired section of stream provides a blueprint to improved water quality and is consistent with the Chagrin River Watershed Action Plan."
The WRRSP funding will allow the city to acquire the acreage, remove manmade structures, restore the river's natural flow and floodplain, and forever protect the property from future development.
The project will restore and protect more than 33 acres of forested riverbank, 14,000 feet of streams and 13 acres of high-quality wetlands.
The WRRSP is part of Ohio's Water Pollution Control Loan Fund, a revolving loan program that provides low-interest loans to cities and sewer districts for wastewater treatment improvements. In exchange for receiving a slightly reduced interest rate on a loan, WPCLF recipients agree to sponsor an environmental protection project.
Aurora's proposed project is sponsored by the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District. It is one of four WRRSP projects the sewer district agreed to sponsor in exchange for an interest rate reduction on a $42 million loan awarded to NEORSD in September to modernize the Southerly Wastewater Treatment Plant in Cuyahoga Heights.
The $4.7 million for Aurora's restoration project comes from existing WPCLF monies, but is based on interest payments due on the NEORSD sponsoring loan.
AURORA qualified for the funding based on the project's potential to enhance and protect Ohio's water resources. Downstream of the golf course property, the Aurora branch of the Chagrin River is designated a State Scenic River.
Restoring the impaired section of stream that runs through the golf course may allow for the scenic designation to be extended upstream.
Of the total grant, about $800,000 is slated to be used for restoration of the river and $3.9 million will go to golf course owner Aurora Recreation LLC, to acquire the land.
Although a handful of local residents opposed the funding, saying the river quality has improved in recent years, the public comments to the Ohio EPA provided no new information and the agency had already determined there would not be a negative impact to the environment, according to EPA spokesman Mike Settles.
Fisher said City Council is not interested in investing s lot of money in the land, but has set aside about $50,000 in the 2013 budget for work there.
He noted some of the money initially will go to get usable buildings ready for occupancy by the parks and recreation department, since the city plans to centalize its operations there.
As for residents' concerns about allowing the land to revert to open space, he said it "depends on what set of lenses you're looking through."
He noted most real estate expects believe green space enhances the value of adjacent properties
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