The League of Women Voters of Metropolitan Columbus will sponsor a forum Thursday, Nov. 16, on rain gardens.
The event, scheduled for 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Whetstone branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library, 3909 N. High St., is intended to focus on the technical aspects of the installation of rain gardens, not the emotionally charged debate that has arisen in Clintonville and threatens to spread to other neighborhoods.
"There's no question that it's a topic that there are people on two sides, which is the reason we wanted to focus on the educational aspects, not on having a public debate," said Judith Y. Brachman, co-chairwoman of the league's land-use committee.
The forum is billed "Rain, Rivers and Your Neighborhood: A Need and a Challenge."
The panelists will be Michael Gallaway, district surface water manager for the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency; Kathleen Smith, an associate with the engineering firm Hazen and Sawyer, which has consulted with Blueprint Columbus; and Leslie Westerfelt, public relations specialist with the city's Office of Sustainability.
Jeremy Brooks, an assistant professor in the Ohio State University School of Environment and Natural Resources, will serve as moderator.
Blueprint Columbus is a multi-year, multimillion-dollar project to reduce sanitary-sewer overflows into rivers and streams in older sections of the city. Clintonville has been the pilot project, with the Linden neighborhood next.
Rain gardens, one of the most visible aspects of a project that resulted from the city settling a lawsuit with the Ohio EPA, have drawn criticism among residents of the neighborhoods where they've been installed or are planned, although supporters also have emerged.
"I really want the focus of this to be to really to explain kind of the technical details ... all of the different factors that led us to the Blueprint solution, kind of the science behind why we arrived at this solution," Westerfelt said. "That's exactly what my hope is. This isn't about discussing whether or not you agree with this solution ... but that we're giving information about why we came to this solution.
"Hundreds of engineers, hundreds of really smart people put a lot into this. I want people to come in with an open mind so they can just hear about how we arrived at the solution. I at least want people to understand the process that we went through."
Smith said, "I'm going to be bringing to them the technical focus of what rain gardens do and the purpose of them. I also bring kind of the historical backdrop of this as well. I think meetings like this one the league is holding are going to be helpful in spreading the information about why we chose this path with rain gardens.
"Columbus isn't alone in this. Major cities across the country, New York and Philadelphia, also do green infrastructure as well."
During the forum, Gallaway will provide insight into the Ohio EPA's involvement in Blueprint Columbus and discuss the history of federal law and regulations over the past 20 years, which have impacted how, at the state and local levels, sanitary sewer overflows are addressed, Media Relations Manager James Lee wrote in an email.