HEBRON – It was standing room only in the Lakewood High School library Tuesday night.
Nearly 200 predominately east end Buckeye Lake residents turned out to hear about water levels for the next three years at their notoriously shallow end of the lake. Pete Myer, of the Honey Creek Homeowners Association, requested the meeting with dam project spokesperson Ian Nickey to give residents an opportunity to express their concerns about water levels and the disparate impact on them.
Most left the 1.5 hour meeting disappointed and some were visibly angry. Nickey cut the meeting off a few minutes after its advertised end. Myer told residents ahead of time that Nickey is not a decision maker while acknowledging that no one else will speak with residents about the dam project and its impact.
ODNR officials last appeared at a public information session or meeting last November just as construction was starting. They also don’t participate in the infrequent meetings of their hand-picked advisory council. Those meetings are closed to the press and non-members. Any face-to-face communication concerning the dam is channeled through Nickey.
Brian Newell of Gannett Fleming, the project’s lead engineering firm, joined Nickey Tuesday night. “We want to give you the information we have,” Nickey said at the start of a sort of Dam Project 101 presentation. He added that the goal is “seeking clarity over agreement.” “I’m trying to present you with the facts,” Nickey said. He asked that questions be held until the end of the meeting which would end at the advertised time.
Three or four photos, that are getting pretty familiar to close observers, were presented as evidence of “a lot of problems” discovered as docks, trees and other items were removed from the state’s side of the dam. One showed a void behind the stone masonry wall along part of the West Bank. A particularly popular photo showed major heartwood rot in a large cottonwood tree in front of Tory Wolfe’s West Bank home. Nickey claimed that they “found a lot of heartwood rot” but Wolfe’s tree is the only one documented. Another photo showed a sinkhole behind a dock support post on the North Bank.
One photo was new, showing what appeared to be an old storage building with a pit outhouse on the private side of the dam. It was discovered when the structures were razed after ODNR bought a property to improve access to the dam.
“Problems started long before any of us were born,” Nickey said. “There were a lot of unknowns.”
He then described the interim risk reduction projects undertaken in Phase 1. Two companies built the stability berm starting at the opposite ends of the dam. The ‘golden spike’ day was March 23. Nickey called it, “Pretty marvelous execution by the construction team.” He described the construction of the 40-foot deep seepage barrier in detail. Three soil mixing machines were used to build it. “We were on budget, on time.”
Once the some 24-inch wide barrier was completed and cured, it was periodically core drilled to check whether it was properly constructed. Tests included videotaping the core holes, filling the holes with water to check permeability and lab stress tests on the soil-mixed concrete cores.
Thirty minutes into the meeting, Nickey first brought up water levels. He said, “Depth is not used to regulate the lake. We use mean sea level (MSL)” which is measured by the USG gauge at Millersport. That gauge measured 888.9 Tuesday morning, he said. That level is just 40 percent of a foot or 4.8 inches above ODNR’s new winter pool level of 888.5. By midnight Wednesday, evaporation had reduced it to 888.86 or about half an inch.
Nickey said the normal summer pool is 891.5 and the crest (the level at which water is level with the top of the Seller’s Point spillway is 892.0. At levels any higher, water will start flowing over the spillway.
The interim summer pool is 890.5 Nickey said, acknowledging“We just haven’t been there.” He also agreed that ODNR’s 888.5 winter pool has only been reached a couple of times in the last twenty-some years. The stop logs will be removed at the AMIL spillway in Buckeye Lake Village sometime this fall to take the lake down to 888.5 if it isn’t already there. The logs will be replaced in March to hopefully bring the lake up to the interim summer pool at 890.5.
“The risk is not gone,” Nickey said. “We have mitigated the risk but we will have a lot of work to do.” The new dam will be at least at 894. The finish date is still sometime in 2019.
Brian Newell of Gannett Fleming brought up the “new normal” which means ODNR will be managing the lake level. This hasn’t been done in the past, but a full-time dam tender has been hired to make adjustments in advance of major storms etc. He mentioned several lakes with active management, to comments that those lakes are flood control lakes and Buckeye Lake is not a flood control lake. The intent, Newell said, is to try to regulate the water pressure on the dam.
He said concerns about low water levels particularly in the east end, which Myer described as anything east of Cranberry Bog, “is more of a dredging issue than it is a water level issue.”
He described the project’s current status as having been seen by a triage nurse in the emergency room and now “we’re waiting for the doctor.” The seepage wall, Newell said, is an “unsupported wall and it is not going to work forever.”
He and Nickey unveiled a list of Dam Remediation Principles, calling them “absolutes” with no deviations permitted. The dam safety list is:
• Dam safety, the design will:
– Meet all dam safety requirements.
– Facilitate safety inspection of dam from land and water.– Facilitate rapid repair of dam if needed.
– Avoid penetrations and other modifications that could weaken dam.
Nickey said the meeting is the first of several community meetings.
Newell said another priority is to “optimize public access to ODNR lands and the lake once the dam is complete. That’s part of the reason for ODNR’s property purchases along the dam. He described the 15 foot wide buttress wall that will be built behind the seepage barrier. The plan now is to remove the approximately 15 feet of the stability berm on the lake side of the seepage barrier.
The top of the new dam will be constructed to support a truck or ATV-type vehicle. “We’re not creating a highway or access road,” Newell said. “It will probably be some type of reinforced grass.”
Newell and Nickey had bad news for the bike trail advocates. A recent review of the budget showed there is no money for bike trails, special lighting etc. “Hopefully it won’t look ugly,” Newell said. “Non-dam related enhancements are beyond the current budget scope.” He allowed that ODNR will consider community proposals if the community brings the money.
There were some tidbits of new information in the dock portion of the remediation principles. They are:
• Permitting New Docks Along Dam:
– ODNR plans to allow homeowners on the dam to have access to docks on the dam in the future.
– Docks will not be allowed to be attached to the dam.
– Sufficient clearance will be required between docks for dam safety repairs and boater safety.
– Docks will be allowed to be installed only from lakeward side to avoid damage to the dam.
– Docks will be required to be installed using ODNR-approved materials and methods to ensure a dock can be readily removed in an emergency.
– No docks or boatlifts will be allowed to be stored on top of the dam.
Newell revealed more details when he said there are “caveats.” Homeowners will be “allowed to have at least one dock.” The clearance between docks requirement could limit many to just one dock. “There is likely to be an eight foot clear zone” between docks and the dam, he said which will require some type of removable gangplank. The objective is to allow a dam inspector to visually check the dam from a small boat traveling between the dam front and boat docks.
Boat lifts will be allowed but they will likely have to be battery or solar-powered as there will be no electricity to docks. Dock standards being developed have been altered to meet ADA standards. ODNR standards will proscribe maximum widths and lengths.
Dredging is not part of the dam project, Newell said. It is a Division of Parks issue not Division of Engineering. Newell then said ODNR has four dredges on the lake, adding, “They have no place left to place the spoil.” He had more bad news on dredging, reporting that there were too many organic materials in the spoil for the de-watering process to work. That plant is being dissembled. De-watering would allow spoil to be loaded onto trucks for removal after a day or so of treatment, rather slowly de-watering it in disposal sites for three to five years.
Though a few questions had sites for three to five years.
Though a few questions had been shouted out during the presentations, Nickey opened the question period about 20 minutes before 8 p.m.
An east end resident immediately said, “There has been nothing said about the east end.” Others agreed. A question about possible horsepower restrictions on the lake after the dam is finished was answered that they hadn’t heard anything about such restrictions. Newell said it is a park policy question.
A question about a point where water levels can be increased before the project is totally complete was answered that ODNR’s Dam Safety Unit would first have to be comfortable with the dam’s integrity before there is anymore water.
Several residents asked why the level had to be reduced to 888.50 this fall, with some questioning whether there would be enough rain next spring to even reach the interim summer pool