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The Journal Gazette

  • Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette The ditch that runs through Moser Park and Heatherwood Park in New Haven is among Allen County waterways where the Save Maumee Grassroots Organization has planted trees.

Thursday, July 27, 2017 1:00 am

River advocate, surveyor at odds

FRANK GRAY | The Journal Gazette

The Save the Maumee Grassroots Organization started more than 10 years ago as a one-woman organization determined to clean up the Maumee River.

Somehow that woman, Abigail King, has managed to recruit volunteers who have descended on the river every Earth Day since 2006 and pulled tons of trash out of the river.

She's wangled donations to plant native grasses on the river's banks and provide all the equipment and other supplies to get the job done.

Save the Maumee today has a board of directors and piles of volunteers who organize activities, and it's won federal grants to finance projects.

One of those grants is for $127,000 to plant 2,780 trees along 1.36 miles of banks of streams that flow into the river.

And that, for the first time, has put Save the Maumee in conflict with local officials.

The organization's position is that ditches that flow into the river are part of the river system itself. By planting trees along ditches and streams, it will reduce erosion and silt and other pollutants that flow into the river and help prevent events such as the giant algae bloom that wreaked havoc with Toledo's water system a couple of years ago.

There are 11 million people who depend on the Maumee between Fort Wayne and Lake Erie, King says, and she wants to protect them.

But that philosophy clashes with the position of the Allen County surveyor, whose responsibilities include maintaining 2,500 miles of ditches in the county.

The surveyor wants to remove all vegetation along the ditches to keep them flowing.

King says she has done plenty of research and can prove that having trees on one side of ditches will improve their performance and protect the river. With trees on one side, work crews will still have access to the ditches, she says.

But the surveyor, she says, isn't interested in listening.

So King's plan is to attend the drainage board's regular meeting at 9:15 this morning and, during the public comment period, ask that a public hearing be held so she can present evidence that planting trees along ditches helps prevent pollution and erosion.

King has asked supporters to attend the meeting.

County Surveyor Jeff Sorg acknowledges that King and her organization have environmental concerns, but they don't seem to understand how the drainage system works, he said.

Trees and drainage in rural areas don't mix, Sorg said. Farmers want the trees out of the way so they can farm up to the edge of the ditch.

Also, for the most part, ditches and drains are on private property. They are privately owned, and the property owners are assessed a fee to maintain the drains.

“We have to do what Indiana code tells us to,” Sorg said.

And any trees that Save the Maumee plants around ditches will be killed anyway. The county sprays the ditches with herbicides to keep them open.

The meeting will be interesting.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others' experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, fax at 461-8893, or email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.