More than 100 people crowded into the Clintonville Woman's Club on Aug. 3 to hear -- and some to jeer -- the Blueprint Columbus project and its methods of reducing pollution of the Olentangy River.
Most of the discussion and virtually all of the disdain at the monthly meeting of the Clintonville Area Commission focused on one of the most visible aspects of the citywide effort: rain gardens.
The gardens, which are being installed across Clintonville in an area mostly east of High Street, stretching from Glencoe Road to Morse Road, work by filtering rainwater through layers of stone, soil and plants before it drains into the river.
Commission Chairwoman Libby Wetherholt scheduled the Blueprint Columbus presentation and relocated the gathering to the clubhouse in anticipation of an overflow crowd and in hopes of quelling growing discontent among residents in the area where the project is already underway.
Although Department of Public Utilities Director Tracie Davies made some introductory remarks regarding her ties with Clintonville, the bulk of the presentation was handled by Leslie Westerfelt, public-relations specialist in the city's Office of Sustainability.
Westerfelt began by outlining how Blueprint came about, dating back to 2002, when the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency ordered Columbus to clean up pollution reaching the river through stormwater overflows. A plan submitted in 2005 called for construction of 14 miles of sewer tunnels, Westerfelt said, but officials instead opted for a less-expensive approach they had hoped would be more effective.
"There really is no do-nothing option here," Westerfelt said. "We really have to do something about the sanitary-sewer overflows."
Clintonville, an older area with lots of overflow problems due to aging sewer lines, became the starting point for Blueprint, which both EPA officials and Columbus City Council approved in 2015.
Eventually, 17 areas encompassing 18,000 acres around the city will have aspects of Blueprint Columbus implemented, Westerfelt said. The main aspects are:
* Filling cracks in sewer lines coming from homes
* Redirecting rainwater from roofs to the street
* Providing free sump pumps to curb basement flooding
* Installing "green infrastructure," including permeable pavement and the rain gardens.
In all, Blueprint Columbus will cost $959 million, of which Westerfelt said $453 million would benefit homeowners.
The location of the rain gardens, she said, is "very much grounded in the drainage patterns that are happening in the neighborhood."
"All of these rain gardens kind of work together like pieces of a puzzle," she said. "The residents will never be required to maintain these themselves."
The company installing the gardens would handle maintenance for two years, after which it would become the responsibility of city crews, Westerfelt said. The inspections are to be on a monthly basis but would take place more often if warranted, she said.
She also said common worries about the gardens attracting mosquitoes didn't hold water, as the gardens are designed to drain quickly.
When it was time for questions from the audience, some were asked, but most people just wanted to comment, and several sought to criticize.
Kit Patterson of East Schreyer Place, a retired engineer, demanded that all the plans of Blueprint Columbus be posted to the project's website.
"We paid for them," he said.
"I'm here to bust that blue bubble," said Jeff Cox of West Kanawha Avenue. "I'm here to tell the truth."
He said residents, not the Ohio EPA, initially sued the city over the pollution issue and added that how it's being handled in Clintonville is different from in other parts of the city.
"They're treating you different from downtown and the developers in the Arena District," Cox said.
Others complained about safety concerns and the aesthetics of the gardens.
"I've almost hit the thing," said Chuck Meier, a resident of Glenmont Avenue, where the installation of the gardens has disrupted traffic flow and introduced temporary fencing to the street.
Another man shouted, "People are falling into these things," before swearing and storming out of the meeting room.