Conservancy and the Cuyahoga


River Improvement Recommendations

by the

Committee on River and Harbor Improvement


The Cleveland Chamber of Commerce


Approved by the Board of Directors

March 19,1919


To the Board of Directors of

The Cleveland Chamber of Commerce.

Gentlemen: On February 9th, 1917, your board approved the report of your committee on river and harbor improvement in which was contained the suggestion that the honorable board of County Commissioners of Cuyahoga County and the honorable Mayor and the City Council of the City of Cleveland consider the feasibility of establishing a conservancy district co-extensive with Cuyahoga County, under the Conservancy Act of 1913, as a means of securing Cuyahoga River improvements. At that time your committee summarized the Conservancy Act in the following language:

" Briefly, the Conservancy Act provides that on petition of certain free holders or of the city or county government addressed to the Court of Common Pleas, setting forth the purposes for which the establishment of a conservancy district, of stated area, is desired, the court is authorized to establish such a district.

Any or all of the following purposes, set forth in the petition, will, in the language of the Act, justify the exercise of such authority by the court-

(a) of preventing floods.

(b) of regulating stream channels by changing, widening and deepening the same.

(c) of reclaiming wet and overflowed lands.

(d) of providing for irrigation where it may be needed.

(e) of regulating the flow of streams.

(f) of diverting, or in whole or in part eliminating, water courses. "

The constitutionality and validity of the act have twice been upheld by the Ohio Supreme Court and also by the Supreme Court of the United States.

At the present time the County Commissioners have pending consideration of a resolution to petition the Court of Common Pleas for the establishment of such a conservancy district. Two hearings on this resolution have been held by the Commissioners, at which this Chamber was represented by members of your committee on river and harbor improvement. A number of other organizations also were represented. Action on the matter has been deferred pending reports from the Chamber of Commerce and the Chamber of Industry. Another hearing will be held Monday, March 3rd.

At the last hearing on Monday, February 24th, the question was raised whether all of the twelve judges of the Court of Common Pleas of Cuyahoga County would act together in the creation of the conservancy district and subsequent proceedings, or whether a single judge might be assigned to act for the court as is done in the hearing of ordinary cases. It is the opinion of the lawyers on your river and harbor improvement committee to whom the matter was first referred that all of the judges may act as to all matters arising under the Conservancy Act under both constitutional and statutory authority, and in this opinion the counsel of the Chamber concurs. Both counsel agree that there is a possibility that the joint action of all the judges might be held to be required in such matters as the creation of the district, the appointment of the directors, the approval of the plan, the approval of the appraisers' report, and other essential matters connected with the original petition for the creation of the conservancy district. Whether or not all the judges are required to act with reference to the matters enumerated in the last paragraph above, your committee is of the opinion that all the judges should act as to such matters, first, because of the great importance of this improvement and the need for the judgment and counsel of twelve judges on the important problems involved, and second, because the legal proceedings under the petition might subsequently be called into question if the functions of the court were delegated in this case to one judge, and third, because all the judges may so act with the expenditure of a comparatively small amount of time by reason of their power to delegate such matters as the taking of testimony and other matters of detail.

With the understanding therefore that the judges of the Court of Common Pleas will be requested to act jointly upon the petition for the establishment of a conservancy district, your committee on river and harbor improvement now recommends that The Cleveland Chamber of Commerce express its approval of the proposed action of the County Commissioners in filing in the Common Pleas Court a petition for the establishment of a conservancy district for the various purposes set out in the Conservancy Act.

In view of the fact that a conservancy district is managed and controlled by three directors appointed by the Court of Common Pleas, your committee further recommends that the board of directors of the Chamber either alone or in co-operation with other civic organizations at the proper time tender their assistance to the Court of Common Pleas by furnishing names of a number of persons deemed especially qualified for the position of director of the conservancy district.

As reasons for re-affirming our recommendation for the establishment of a conservancy district we submit the following:

(1) It now appears that all of the $5,000,000 provided for the Huron-Lorain Bridge, part of which it was contemplated should be used for river straightening purposes, will be required for the building of the bridge alone.

(2) The City Plan Commission has approved of the plan for river straightening known as Route No. 2, as recommended by your board upon the report of this committee approved by you on January 29th, 1919. It appears to your committee that Plan No. 2 can not be put into effect, and the river straightened in accordance therewith, unless:

(a) The county presents to the people sooner or later for their vote, a bond issue perhaps in the amount of three or four million dollars,


(b) Unless a conservancy district is created for the straightening of the river.

The first method of financing river straightening, that is, by a new bond issue by the county, appears to your committee as not feasible. It is believed that such a bond issue would not be voted upon favorably and that many delays would result from adopting this course.

(3) It has been suggested that the Commissioners might proceed to expend the $5,000,000 voted for river straightening and bridge construction and defer going before the people for the additional amount required to complete the work until a more favorable period, thus, in effect, binding the people to the approval of the additional amount at that time, in order to secure the benefits of the improvement. The County Engineer must, however, before the construction is begun, present estimates to the County Commissioners. When this is done it would be obvious to the public that the additional cost would be due to river straightening, and even if court action were not initiated to prevent proceeding on that basis, a considerable amount of popular prejudice against the river straightening might be aroused if it were known that the river plans were the only thing preventing the completion of the bridge within the appropriation voted for that purpose.

(4) In regard to the second method of financing river straightening, that is, through the establishment of a conservancy district, this committee is of the opinion that an application to the Common Pleas Court of this county (which application would be considered by all the judges of the Common Pleas Court) for the establishment of a conservancy district for the straightening of the river can be obtained, and your committee knows of no other plan for straightening the river which would be likely to receive definite action at this time.

Many of the reasons for straightening the river in fact most of them ire away from and outside of any matters which are connected with the construction of the Huron-Lorain Bridge: - for example, the prevention of floods, which have caused millions of dollars of damage in the Cuyahoga Valley, the saving to the city and federal government in dredging the river, the improvement of natural resources along the line of Article 2, Section 36 of the Ohio Constitution, the improvement of navigation, and other benefits, all of which are of much importance to the interests of this community.

(5) While a single deck bridge as now contemplated might be built without the straightening of the river, on the other hand a better bridge at a lower cost and with better grades could be constructed over an improved river channel. Further the action of the County Commissioners in proposing to file a petition for the creation of a conservancy district because of their interest in obtaining the best possible bridge gives assurance of prompt action and possible success in accomplishing at this time the improvement of the Cuyahoga River.

(6) The Conservancy Act provides for the assessment of the cost of improvements made under it in proportion to benefits received. Unquestionably the county and the city as a whole will receive a major portion of the benefit of this improvement. Unquestionably some of the properties in the Cuyahoga Valley will be benefited. Unquestionably some of the properties in the valley will be damaged. The Conservancy Act provides that the improvement can not be made unless benefits are in excess of the costs. This, together with our constitutional provisions as to assessment insures that no property owner can be assessed as much as the increased value of his property, and such assessments may be distributed over a period of thirty years. Furthermore, such assessment can be made only under review of the Court of Common Pleas with full opportunity for hearing of the property owners concerned. The large contribution which the federal government will make for river straightening purposes will reduce the assessment upon property owners and, under the Conservancy Act, an assessment should be, and in all probability will be made upon the entire duplicate of the City of Cleveland for special benefits to the city, and upon the entire duplicate of Cuyahoga County for special benefits to the county. On the other hand it is obviously true that the benefits received by a property owner in East Cleveland will be somewhat less than the benefits received by a property owner in the river valley. A fair apportionment of these costs, which will not be excessive on the property owner in the valley, is obviously more equitable than the assessment of the costs by way of a tax which affects equally all property in Cuyahoga County.

With reference to damages, under our Constitution and under the Conservancy Act, every person whose property is damaged is entitled to receive the full amount of such damages.

Your committee on river and harbor improvement believes that it is highly desirable from every point of view that work should be begun at the earliest possible moment upon the Huron-Lorain High Level Bridge, as well as upon the improvement of the Cuyahoga River for purposes of navigation and that it is almost equally important that provision should be made as soon as possible to minimize the damage from flood which is otherwise sure to recur at some time in the not distant future. It is our judgment that the establishment of a conservancy district offers the beat and most immediate possibility for the proper accomplishment of all these purposes and that it is especially desirable that as much public work as possible should be entered upon in the very near future. For these reasons we believe the action of the chamber as above recommended is highly desirable.

Respectfully submitted,

E. C. Collins, Chairman.

John A. Alburn, Vice Chairman.

J. S. Ashley

Edwin Baxter

C. L. Bradley

Charles E. Cole

Tracy H. Duncan

T. H. Garry

Harry N. Hill

Robert Hoffman

George B. Marty

H. L. McKinnon

Robert M. Morgan

Herbert K. Oakes

G. M. Steinbrenner

Edgar B. Thomas

A. W. Thomson

W. M. Williams

Committee on River and Harbor Improvement.

February 28, 1919.

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