More than 60 people the Portage area crowded into a meeting room in Kent to discuss a proposal to divert more water from Lake Rockwell.
The forum, sponsored by the League of Women Voters in Kent, was organized to give the public a chance to comment on a plan by Akron to divert water from Lake Rockwell in Franklin Township and Streetsboro to serve three Summit townships.
The plan calls for the lost water to be returned to the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie through a "no net loss" proposal. However, the return point is downstream of the part of the river which runs through Kent.
Leonard Black of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said the department does not usually get involved with water diversion issues and this is the first one Ohio has ever requested.
Federal law requires governors of Great Lakes states to approve water diversions. In July 1996, a preliminary report was prepared and sent "informally" to natural resources departments in those states.
"In retrospect, I wish we had sent the report to you all," he said. "I think we misjudged the level of interest in Northeast Ohio. We had no interest in being secretive. I realize it looks that way."
Bob Brown, director of Kent's water reclamation facility, and Interim Kent City Manager William Lillich said the city is concerned that the diversion would make an existing problem of low flow in the Cuyahoga River worse.
With less water in the Cuyahoga, they said, the city could be required to make costly upgrades to its wastewater treatment plant, they said.
Robert Heath, professor of Kent State University's division of water resources research, said less water in the Cuyahoga could affect endangered species, might lead to higher mercury levels, could impact the groundwater levels and might lead to a potential loss of farmland in Ohio.
"When areas get water, people tend to move into those areas," he said. "That area includes a lot of farms. I'm surprised Governor Voinovich would support this because he has been very strident on the issue of preserving farmland."
But Mike McGlinchy of Akron said Joint Economic Development Districts were established to encourage developers to take their industry to Akron rather than surrounding communities.
"Businesses were going to the virgin lands because there are no redevelopment costs, and they don't have to pay the income tax. Under a JEDD, a business pays the 2 percent income tax. It reduces the competitive edge. In the past, if you wanted Akron water, you had to annex. This allows townships to retain their identity."
Mayor Gerald Hupp of Munroe Falls said the part of the river that runs through his city is almost dry because Akron uses so much water upstream of Munroe Falls already, and expressed concern for the parents and children who fish in the river.
"I'm amazed this hasn't been addressed," he said. "I'm surprised the folks in Ohio didn't say, 'You have the right to use the river, but you don't have the right to destroy it."
Bob Wysenski of the Ohio EPA said the agency has had several meetings with Akron working to increase the amount of water it allows to come over the dam during the summer months, when low flow in the river has been a problem. He described those meetings as cooperative and productive.
"This summer, we could have had 35 days with no water over the dam at Lake Rockwell," he said. "We had none."
McGlinchy said Akron has been working with Wysenski's staff to determine how much additional water can be released.
"We're just adding one more piece of criteria to the decision we make
every day," he said.