Wellness center location changed, but other Plum Creek construction still a possibility

Kate Bigam

Local environmentalists and wetland preservationists were gearing up this week to try to protect Kent’s Plum Creek Park from potentially harmful construction.

The controversy centered around Robinson Memorial Hospital’s proposed construction of new wellness center, a 42,000-square-foot facility operated in conjunction with Summa Health System.

The original construction location for the facility was the corner of state Route 261 and Sunnybrook Road, just down the street from Mike’s Place and the stadium, on a 10.3-acre piece of land owned by KentRidge at Golden Pond. The facility would have been constructed over parts of Plum Creek, a Cuyahoga River tributary.

On Tuesday, Steve Colecchi, president and chief executive officer of Robinson Memorial Hospital, announced that the new health and wellness facility will be built at Devon Place, near the intersection of state routes 43 and 261 behind Bob Evans.

“I would emphasize that the building plans for Devon Place have not yet finalized, and environmental concerns, if any, will be resolved as part of the review and approval process,” Colecchi said.

Still, Kent resident Edith Chase called the Golden Pond property a prime real estate location, saying she would not be surprised if businesses start looking at the area as a site for future developments.

“We’re not going to say, ‘You can’t do anything,’ because you have to use the land for something,” Chase said. “It’s being actively marketed now, and of course, it’s commercial property near (state Route) 43.”

One third of the park is owned by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and therefore protected against construction, but the majority is privately owned and open to the possibility of development.

Chase, a Kent resident who researches water quality issues, said she is concerned about the potential damage construction could do to the area.

“Wetlands are worth protecting because they have functions,” Chase said. “Part of the function is to reduce flooding and to filter out sediment to improve the quality of Plum Creek, which drains that area. Plum Creek isn’t a very high-quality creek already, so this would affect water quality.”

Jennifer White, district education specialist and technician for the Portage Soil & Water Conservation District, said wetlands serve a variety of functions. Not only do they serve as home to a diversity of wildlife, she said, they reduce flood risks by retaining water and slowing its flow during flooding events.

The plants and organisms in wetland soil also filter pollutants out of water, White said, allowing water to “recharge.”

“They’re like a natural kidney, when you look at an ecosystem,” she explained. “They’re able to filter out that water as it comes through.”

White said construction over wetlands reduces water’s ability to seep into the earth by turning the ground into impervious surfaces such as parking lots, building and sidewalks.

In order to build atop wetlands, developers must obtain a water permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as well as a wetland permit from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

Ohio EPA spokesman Mike Settles said the agency typically evaluates each situation internally, and no public hearing is necessary. But in the case of Plum Creek Park, local environmentalists raised concerns about the new facility’s affect on local wetlands.

Before the location change was announced, Chase and other concerned citizens requested the EPA hold a public hearing to inform residents of the situation. The hearing was scheduled for yesterday evening, but the Ohio EPA announced on Tuesday afternoon that the meeting had been canceled because a new construction location had been chosen.

Settles said it was unclear whether construction at the new site would affect wetlands and streams or not, but he was under the impression it would not. In that case, he said, a water quality certification permit would not be necessary and the EPA would have no further involvement in the case.

Akron-based Flickinger Wetland Services group was the consulting firm for the health and wellness center project, hired by the site developer to obtain both government permits. Judith Mitchell, project manager for the Flickinger Group, said a variety of treatment programs are available to reduce the negative impact of construction in wetland areas.

“It all depends on how you build the site,” Mitchell said. “You can build a site and really affect the quality of the receiving water, or you can do quality control and receive very minimal damage.”

Mitchell said water basins can be built to catch the run-off of water unable to seep through pervious surfaces. The basins would then pre-treat the water before it reached the Cuyahoga River.

Bob Brown, manager of the Kent Water Reclamation Facility, said pre-treatment facilities serve much of the same function as natural wetlands, filtering out pollution from car oil and anti-freeze, for example, which may be mixed with water run-off from a parking lot built over a wetland.

“It better than nothing,” Brown said, “but it’s certainly not going to mimic mother nature.”

Contact public affairs reporter Kate Bigam at [email protected].