Serving all the communities of the Buckeye Lake Region

Dispute stalls Perry County lake access project

NEW LEXINGTON – Perry County entities have two years to use $500,000 appropriated through the state’s capital improvement budget for boater access to Buckeye Lake’s southern shore.

“It’s a good opportunity for that end of the lake,” said Tom Johnson, Perry County Community Improvement Corporation Director and Somerset Mayor. “We’re hopeful it can be an economic engine for (Thorn Township) and the county.”

State Senator Jay Hottinger (R-Newark) said securing the funding was no easy task. Initially, he said, there was resistance at the state level because the state is already investing nearly $110 million to replace Buckeye Lake’s 4.1-mile earthen dam. But, he said he, State Representative Bill Hayes, and the Perry County CIC worked together to convince legislators otherwise.

“The Buckeye Lake community shouldn’t be punished for things out of their control,” Hottinger said. He said $500,000 was secured out of nearly $5 million requested in total for various proposed projects throughout the Buckeye Lake region. Hottinger emphasized that the $500,000 earmark may only be used for public access to Buckeye Lake from Perry County. Anything beyond that would need to be privately funded. He said the $500,000 would be available to the project until spring 2018.

Hottinger said thus far there is no agreement as to where the public access would be located and there are “differences of opinion” as to where it should go and what should be offered.

Johnson said the project is very much in its early stages and while no definite location has been determined, negotiations have been going on with the owner of a 36-acre site near Honey Creek Road.

Thorn Township Trustee Bob Coleman, who was clear he was only speaking for himself and not the other two trustees, said he’s concerned those negotiations are in danger because the property owner prefers not to deal with Perry County. For that reason Coleman asked that the state funding to be turned over to Thorn Township but thus far, that hasn’t happened. Coleman said those involved with the project have “shut the door” on Thorn Township. Coleman said he understood the township would be the “point person,” or contact liaison, between Hottinger and those involved with the project, but, again, that didn’t happen.

Coleman said from his point of view the township is interested in “carving out a park,” with a boat ramp, parking, restrooms, and some greenspace. He said he really likes the idea of the boat access, but he would like the project to help bring in revenue for Perry County. “I would like to see that park done. It would be the gateway to Perry County,” Coleman said. “It’s a great opportunity for everyone.” He would like the township to have a more open dialogue with ODNR to discuss how the money could be used.

“There is no reason why one person should shut the whole thing down,” Coleman said. He said the property owner is key in that negotiation.

Perry County Commissioner Jim O’Brien acknowledged there are some differences of opinion on how the project should proceed, but it’s very important that all entities, including Thorn Township, are involved. “The state wants to see everyone work together,” he said. “I want everybody to have a voice.”

O’Brien said some people may not realize the CIC, which helped secure the $500,000, is a private entity, not a Perry County entity. He said he serves on the CIC as a representative of Perry County, but the county does not operate the CIC. “They can come up with funding that the county can’t,” O’Brien said. He was clear he wants the township to be involved with the project and everyone is “still open for discussion.” Nothing related to the project has yet been decided for certain, other than he said ODNR agreed to install the boat ramp. “I’m hoping we can all pull it together so everyone can have a voice,” O’Brien said. “I would hate to see this falter because people can’t get along. The door is never closed.”

O’Brien said several different scenarios for the lake access project are being presented. He said the project’s success depends upon everyone’s willingness to compromise and not allow hurtles to slow progress. “The whole thing is to work with the community,” O’Brien said.

As far as ODNR’s role is concerned, ODNR spokesman Matt Eiselstein said, “Senator Hottinger secured the funds and is currently working with members of the community to draft a qualifying proposal. Once the proposal is complete it will be submitted to ODNR for review.”

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