2008-07-05 / Front Page

Same Old Story

Heavy rain floods Buckeye Lake area, closes I-70
Story & Photos by Scott Rawdon & Charles Prince

LAKE AREA - Friday, June 27 was a bad day for motorists and local businesses. Floodwaters closed I-70, backing up traffic for miles either side of the Ohio 79 overpass.

Torrential summer rains started early Thursday morning. The Buckeye Lake storm gage reported about 3.4 inches of rain with most of it falling between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m. For a six hour storm event, the early Thursday morning rain was between a 50 and a 100 year event according to Julie Dian-Reed of the National Weather Service. About another inch of rain fell Thursday and early Friday morning.

The nearly 4.5 inches of rain pushed the South Fork of the Licking River over I-70 , first closing the exit ramp to Buckeye Lake, then the eastbound lanes and finally westbound lanes. IHeavy 70 was completely closed about 8 a.m. Friday morning with one lane westbound reopening about 11 a.m. Traffic was driving through 6-12 inches of water. Both westbound lanes were open by 4:30 p.m. and one eastbound lane reopened at about 7:00 p.m. All lanes were reopened by 8:30 p.m.

The closure and partial closures pushed heavy traffic through Buckeye Lake, Hebron, Millersport and Thornville. Hebron and Thornville Police spent much of the day on traffic duty.

ODOT District 5 Public Information Officer Kate Stickle explained the flooding issues. She said the South Fork of the Licking River overflow releases water from Buckeye Lake, which flooded I-70 just west of Ohio 79. Buckeye Lake's spillway, said Stickle, opens automatically when the water level rises six inches above the spillway level.

"While the high water has had impact on individual ramps and specific lanes of 70, rarely do we need to shut down the entire interstate for an extended period," she said. "Only after heavy rainfall like we have seen in the last few days and the impact from the Buckeye Lake spillway does the entire interstate get covered with water." Stickle said I-70 has shut down about once per year recently. A January flood shut down eastbound traffic, but westbound traffic was maintained.

She said ODOT has a proposed project to raise the existing roadway an average of roughly three feet, reconstruct the existing Ohio 79 cloverleaf interchange into a diamond interchange, and raise 10 bridges to match the heightened highway. The proposed project may run upwards of $55 million, she said. Stickle had no estimate of when or if the project would happen.

The foul weather and flooding were tough on local businesses as well. Shirley Groseclose, co-owner of the Buckeye Lake KOA, said lightening struck the campground 5:30 a.m. June 26. It took out the KOA's telephones, its satellite system, air conditioner, DVR, and cable for an entire row of sites. Then the floods came. "It was the worst in this region in 30 years, most people tell us," she said. "All but five of our sites were under water."

The campground was nearly sold out for the weekend, said Groseclose. She and her office manager called campers to cancel their reservations and refund deposits. "We called KOA, Inc. in Montana and took our campground off the Internet reservations so someone could not make one over the Internet while we were closed," said Groseclose. "We also went on our webpage and told campers we were closed for the weekend."

The floodwaters eventually receded, revealing a huge mess. The KOA crew pressure washed picnic tables - after they retrieved the tables that were swept downstream - cleaned and tightened submerged electrical connections, and picked up debris the flood swept onto the property. Crews pressure washed the sediment off the KOA lanes, the jumping pillow, and the new miniature golf course.

"A lot of our problem was the clean-up and the loss of about $15,000 for the weekend that we would have made," said Groseclose. "In our small business, that's a lot of money." She said KOA's flooding also affects other local businesses like Albanese's IGA, Buckeye Lake Hardware, Smitty's, and other local eateries because campers regularly frequent these places.

Groseclose is tired of seeing the business flood on an almost routine basis. "The federal, state, and county governments need to get it together and get on with the proposed dam at the Pilot station area," she said, referring to a project the South Licking Watershed Conservancy District is proposing.

To review the proposed $5 million flood mitigation project, excess floodwater would be contained in a 1,000-acre area, or dry dam, which is roughly west of Ohio 37 (behind the Pilot truck stop) and between I-70 and US 40 to the north. As the name implies, the "dry dam" would only hold water during times of flooding. A nine feet high earthen containment wall would be built north of I-70, west of Ohio 37 and another wall would be built where needed that would run north between I-70 and US 40. The outlet structure, or weir, would be concrete. The dry dam would release water into a new bypass channel consructed on the north side of I-70, reconnecting with South Fork at Ohio 79.

Local governments, said Groseclose, should stop listening to those who oppose the plan. "These complainers will be compensated for their land," she said, adding the Licking River needs to be dredged deeper and wider, and log jams must be cleared continually. "People in government need to take responsibility for the problems that make Buckeye Lake citizens' homes and businesses flood," said Groseclose.

She said flooding worsened when I-70 was built, so the state and federal governments should solve the flooding the highway created. The dry dam would significantly improve local flooding as well, she said. Groseclose believes that while the dry dam would negatively affect a few property owners, the existing floods damage hundreds more homes and businesses outside of it.

"So, the federal, state, and county governments need to get on the ball and start listening to the people and businesses who actually bring income to the area for the State of Ohio," she said.


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