Officials in the two villages bordering Chippewa Lake say they were not told about a sewage leak caused by heavy rain Wednesday.
A bright pink sign posted Monday morning warns Gloria Glens Park residents of “possible untreated raw sewage” in the lake.
Mayor John Dean said the sign says “possible” because he never was notified of the leak caused by the overflow of sanitary sewers during last week’s severe thunderstorm and still hadn’t had it confirmed by county officials as of Monday morning.
Gloria Glens Park and Chippewa Lake villages closed access to their beaches Wednesday because of safety concerns about high water, debris and heavy currents. But no signs were posted alerting residents about a sewage health hazard.
Officials and village residents say they didn’t learn about sewage contamination until seeing a report in The Gazette on Saturday. The story quoted a Gloria Glens mother saying her children played in waist-deep water at a playground near the beach on Thursday, the day after the storm.
“We would have had signs posted the minute we found out,” Gloria Glens Village Council President Pat Kennedy said.
Medina County Sanitary Engineer Jim Troike took the blame, saying he should have notified the villages.
Troike called Kennedy on Monday to apologize.
He said when the villages told the county Health Department on Wednesday that they’d closed the beaches, neither the Health Department nor the sanitary engineer’s office thought “any further communication was necessary.”
“This was a highly unusual situation that hasn’t happened since I’ve been sanitary engineer, so we don’t have a protocol,” Troike said. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t develop one.”
Troike said his office will work with the Health Department to test the water later this week once lake levels return to normal.
Floodwaters largely had receded Monday, but several low-lying areas close to the lake remained swamped.
Health Commissioner Krista Wasowski told The Gazette on Friday that the villages had testing protocols in place to ensure water safety. On Monday, she said she misspoke and that she had misunderstood reports from her staff to mean the villages did their own testing.
Dean and Kennedy said Gloria Glens doesn’t do its own water testing. Chippewa Lake Village Mayor Joanne Dodaro could not be reached for comment Monday.
Kennedy said the village will wait for testing results before they reopen its beach.
“As far as I’m concerned, that’s how long we should wait,” he said. “I don’t think we have a choice but to wait for those samples.”
Wasowski encouraged residents to stay off the beach, but doubted the amount of sewage contamination presented a serious health hazard.
“It doesn’t seem like the levels that went into that very large body of water would cause a health risk to residents,” she said.
Other local and state officials agreed.
Mike Settles, of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, said Chippewa Lake “tends to recover fairly quickly just because of the sheer volume of rainwater that’s mixed with the sewage.
“But obviously it’s not something we like to see.”
Tom James, director of the Medina County Park District, the agency that manages Chippewa Lake, also downplayed the health dangers.
“Any small spill that may have occurred was diluted by literally millions of gallons of water, and what was spilling was already diluted with storm water,” he said. “It certainly is prudent to stay out of that water for a few days, as far as swimming is concerned, but it shouldn’t be a problem with fishing.”
Contact reporter Dan Pompili at (330) 721-4012 or firstname.lastname@example.org.