2010-07-03 / News

New flood control plan emerging

By Scott Rawdon

BUCKEYE LAKE – The South Licking Watershed Conservancy District has scrapped plans for a dry dam west of Ohio 37 and a bypass channel north of I-70 to alleviate flooding from the South Fork of the Licking River in the Buckeye Lake area.

The new plan calls for a series of dikes and an overflow channel behind North Bank Road, which designers say is far more cost effective than the original plan. Planning Engineer Scott Jerrome and State Conservation Engineer Michael Monnin, both with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, held a public meeting last month at the Buckeye Lake Village Hall to discuss the new plan to reduce flooding. Monnin said the meeting was one of the first public discussions of the new plan and he and Jerrome are trying to gauge its public support. There are no specific designs associated with the new proposal.

Floodwaters have closed the I- 70 and Ohio 79 interchange ramps six times since 1997, snarling traffic or diverting it through Hebron or Buckeye Lake Village. Some homes in the Buckeye Lake Bowl – the area west of Buckeye Lake where the South Fork reverses its southeastern flow, looping north to Newark – have been damaged by floodwaters.

The conservancy district’s proposal for a dry dam to temporarily store water from major storms and construction of a bypass channel that essentially eliminated the South Fork’s loop below I-70 ran in major cost issues. Property acquisition and the right to flood agricultural land were expected to cost millions. Monnin explained the project ran into a major snag when it was discovered that the water table is only 15 feet below the surface of the dry dam and channel area, casting doubt on the soil’s stability. Construction costs would be high and maintenance would be a continuing problem. It would cost roughly $8.8 million to acquire all the property necessary, which must be paid by local property owners benefiting from reduced flooding. Engineers estimated the cost to benefit ratio to be about one to one, meaning there’s really no financial gain.

“What is Plan B?” asked Monnin. “That’s what we’re working on now. We’re just getting started with this.” Monnin said the proposal is very much in its early stages and he and Jerrome are looking for local leaders who’d like to become involved. “It’s got to be led locally,” he said.

The current proposal is to create two of five to 10 feet high dikes and an overflow channel between the South Fork Licking River and North Bank Road near Seller’s Point to protect property from South Fork Licking River floodwaters, not from Buckeye Lake, which is far less of a threat. “From the concept it looks doable,” said Jerrome. The new plan could cost anywhere from $2 million to $6 million to construct – although Monnin said all costs are still very much “up in the air” – and could have a cost to benefit ratio up to three to one. Each dike would require three gate closure structures and at least one pump station for interior drainage. The dikes would protect more than 100 structures where the 100-year flood level is above the first floor, and protect more than 200 houses where the 100-year flood level is inside the structure.

Monnin said the USDA, and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) could fund the project, and other federal agencies like FEMA could jointly fund components such as flood-proofing properties and relocations (FEMA has not yet been contacted about this project). He said local funding would have to cover components such as obtaining property acquisition/easements and utility relocations, if necessary. Operation and maintenance costs would also have to be funded locally.

Monnin said there is currently no federal funding allocated for the project and there are a number of steps to be completed before any construction could begin. First, he said the NRCS needs to complete the planning and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to supplement the original work plan authorized in 1984.

Next, construction funding for the project must be appropriated at the federal level, and at the same time the local Conservancy Court must set the property assessments to cover the local share of the construction costs and continuing costs for Operation and Maintenance.

Once all funding is in place, construction contracts can be awarded.

“It appears no properties will need to be relocated to complete an overflow channel and diking,” said Monnin. However, the project may not protect all properties in the area from flood damages. The supplemental work plan would then address potential relocations of these other properties. “This is why we advise bringing FEMA and the Ohio Emergency Management Agency into the planning process,” said Monnin.

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