Monday, August 4, 2003

Owners say homes 'lakeside' to sludge pond

When is a lake not a lake? When it's being used as a builder's retention pond.At least two dozen owners of lakeside homes in a Lebanon, Ohio, subdivision are learning this the hard way.

For three years, they've been battling with the developer of their subdivision, who they say has let mounds of silt and construction runoff flow into the community's lake, degrading it and endangering its wildlife.

The builder, MI Schottenstein Homes, says it is legal to use the 20-plus-year-old lake in its Lakeside Landing subdivision as a retention pond to catch watery runoff from construction.

But about two dozen homeowners say they weren't told that when they bought homes and paid "lakeside premiums" ranging from $6,000 to $12,000.

"We don't want anything more than what we paid for," said David Roach. "We didn't pay for all this silt and wildlife damage. We thought we paid for a lake."

The lake is a 51/2-acre pond which for at least two decades was a popular fishing hole owned by a farmer. Its depth varies from several feet to about 15 feet.

On Friday, the deep side looked muddy blue, but the shallow side was tan and brown. Algae grew in patches.

When Roach first saw the lake three years ago, even its shallows were clear blue. A variety of fish - small mouth bass, crappie, blue gill - swam near shore, said Roach, an avid fisherman.

Now, he hardly ever sees live fish near the shore. He's found seven dead turtles. Neighbors said they see small amounts of dead fish.

Several homeowners told me the lake has gotten shallower as clay silt built up, encouraging algae and choking the lake's ecosystem. They said the smell from decomposing algae was bad enough on July Fourth to keep them indoors.

Last year, an expert with the Ohio Lake & Pond Society measured "excessive amounts" of clay silt in the lake, up to 10 to 12 inches high.

"In a couple of years, this would become overgrown with cattails, lilies and other plants. ... Lake owners would not be able to gain access to the lake at this end," Tom Turk wrote.

MI Homes wants to maintain the lake's beauty and work more with residents, not fight them, said division president Dennis Null.

The company has paid for chemical treatments to kill algae, he said, and it has scooped up a small part of the lake to remove silt.

"There's no doubt there've been problems, but we felt we've dealt with them properly."

It's not rare or illegal to use a lake as a retention pond, he said. Builders are required to have areas that accommodate storm runoff and keep construction mud from flowing onto neighboring streets.

Sometimes builders create their own retention ponds or use existing ones. Sometimes, they even put fountains on them.

In the case of Lakeside Landing, MI Homes told the Ohio EPA before it started building that it would use the lake as a retention pond but not to deposit silt, said Martyn Burt, an Ohio EPA supervisor. MI Homes said it would manage its runoff to minimize flow into the pond.

The builder passed the EPA's last inspection - in July 2002.

"It may be time for another," Burt said.

E-mail or phone 768-8395

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