NEWARK – It may be back to the drawing board for the South Licking Watershed Conservancy District’s efforts to reduce flooding in the Buckeye Lake area.
The district’s most recent plan in its 40+ year history is to construct a 1,000 acre dry dam west of Ohio 37 and north of I-70. An earthen embankment would temporarily store flood waters in the normally dry impoundment, releasing water to a bypass channel running along the north side of I-70. The channel would reconnect to the South Fork of the Licking River after it passes back under I-70 on its way to Newark. Flood waters would no longer head south under I-70 near Ohio 37 , backing up in the Buckeye Lake area and sometimes closing I-70 at Ohio 79.
The project was compatible with ODOT’s plans to add a third lane in each direction from Ohio 79 west to the Pickerington area and stop flood caused closures at Buckeye Lake. The bypass channel would require two to three new bridges which ODOT tentatively agreed to fund since the flood control project would cut the amount of fill needed to elevate I-70 above flood levels.
Progress has been slow for several reasons – funds for planning and engineering have been very limited, support from local government has been weak at best and some landowners in the proposed impoundment area have been very vocal in their opposition.
Federal support for the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s planning services was $185,000 in the FY2009 budget and $125,000 for FY2010. There hasn’t been any local financial help since Fairfield and Licking counties each contributed about $20,000 in 2002.
In its annual report presented last week to the three judge Conservancy Court, the district said it is facing a cash crunch. It has $1,384.02 on hand, but must pay obligations of $5,225 for work not covered by federal funding. Requests for contributions of $5,000 each have been made to Licking and Fairfield Board of County Commissioners.
Director Dan Bolger told the Court that in late November the District received the results from soil samples along the bypass channel route “posed a significant design challenge for constructability and long term performance.” The channel would be excavated 10 feet deep and the problematic samples were in the last three feet. The combination of the sandy soil at that depth and flowing water raises issues about bank stability and concerns about s long term maintenance costs. The dry dam would also be constructed over three gas pipelines and it is questioned whether the owner would permit the construction.
Bolger also reported that the construction cost estimate jumped from $21 million to $28 million in one year. He now questions whether this design is feasible as a standalone project.
He expects some incremental improvements next year. ODNR is expected to complete its long delayed project to widen the existing South Fork channel from the Seller’s Point spillway channel to just north of I-70. The project is intended to return conditions to those that existed before ODNR installed the Seller’s Point spillway. Funding is in place. The channel widening will help move water our of the Buckeye Lake bowl more quickly.
Cleaning the South Fork downstream from I-70 would also improve water flow. Licking County Commissioners have requested funds for stream cleaning from the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District that is now receiving approximately $700,000 a year in assessments on Licking County property.