07/05/05 — Trash pond at Willow Run defies solution

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Trash pond at Willow Run defies solution

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on July 5, 2005 1:45 PM

It can be difficult to fight City Hall, even when you know your way around.

Don Callahan, a member of the city's appearance commission, has had no luck in keeping trash from washing into his neighborhood's pond, even though he has personally appealed to City Council members and city staff for help.

Rains last week swept a new torrent of bottles and bags into the pond at Willow Run subdivision, near the intersection of Harris Street and Stoney Creek Parkway. The lake had overflowed its banks and left debris across the yards.

Willow Run pond

News-Argus/Kaye Nesbit

Don Callahan points out the trash and muck that washed into the pond at the Willow Run subdivision last week. Any rain storm brings litter from a city stream into the privately owned pond.

"It stunk just like a sewer," Callahan said Wednesday afternoon as he stood behind his home on Stephens Court. A few feet away, paper plates and whiskey containers floated on water, which had an oily sheen.

The sight had made Callahan's wife, Ava, cry and write a letter to the News-Argus. The newspaper also reported on the problem in May 2004.

But Don Callahan says he no longer know where to turn for help.

"When I was in the military, there was a chain of command, a way to get problems resolved," he said. "Now I'm hamstrung."

Once trash is in the lake, it's the neighbors' responsibility to clean up. They hired men who carried out two truckloads of debris this week.

But that only helps until the next rain storm, Callahan said. "All the city drains right through here. Every time it rains, I get a fish net and then wheelbarrow stuff to the front yard."

This has been going on for at least the four years that the Callahans have lived there and may date back to the townhouse complex's construction.

The stream feeding the lake runs past Best Road and Harris Street and parallels Oleander Street for several blocks. Callahan drove along it Wednesday and pointed out the trash that will soon be in his backyard. The city has grates to hold back bigger items from floating downstream, but it never seems to clean them, Callahan said.

After Callahan complained about the problem last year, the city installed another grate at Best Street, near Willow Run, but water backs up so much that trash can float over the grates.

Joe Sawyer, head of the city's general services department, said today that the city has done as much he knows how to resolve the problem.

"We can't do anything that might dam up the water because that would cause flooding problems," Sawyer said.

As for the trash upstream, the city's code enforcement officers have had trouble determining who's responsible for the dumping, he said. "Unless we see someone doing it, it's difficult to prove. We've gotten no reports."

He continued, "It's almost impossible to keep a ditch clean. If anyone anywhere is able to do it, I'd like to know how."

Former city manager Richard Slozak told the News-Argus last year that Willow Run's problem was partially caused because it was built in the floodplain. Instead of elevating the homes, the developer dug a pond and eliminated a ditch that would have caught some of the stormwater runoff.

"The city advised him not to do that, but it was before there were environmental regulations," Slozak said at the time.