BUCKEYE LAKE AREA – Even amidst a giant, historic water project and a last- ditch school levy vote that left a district’s future hanging in the balance, 2010 could be called the Year of the Swan. A lonely Mute swan dubbed Sam may have captured the most attention from lake area residents and beyond last year.
Here’s a look at some of 2010’s top stories as there was plenty of Buckeye Lake area drama, controversy, and achievement.
Jan. 9: Buckeye Lake water tower under const r uction: The most prominent feature of Buckeye Lake’s new public water distribution system – a 500,000 gallon, 140 feet tall water tower-was operational early in the year, although it didn’t receive its lighthouse paint and lettering until significantly later. In June, 80 inch lettering replaced the original 42-inch lettering after residents said they had a hard time reading it. The tower cost $1.4 million.
Ja n. 23: Nick Ga r ver resigns: Thor nville Police Chief Nick Garver accepted a chief’s position in Frazeysburg. Garver took over as Thornville Police Chief Jan. 29, 2008, after serving as a patrol officer from April 2002 to Nov. 2006. He served with the New Lexington Police Department from Nov. 2006 to Jan. 2008. His last day was Feb. 17.
Thornville hired Darrel Ball as its new police chief April 16. He served with the Fairfield County Sheriff’s Department from 1988 to 2007 and served 18 months in Afghanistan where he was an ACAS police mentor who trained high-ranking police officers. Previously, he served as both police chief and village administrator in Laurelville, Ohio, south of Circleville.
Feb. 3: Public water flows for first time in Buckeye Lake: A Stillion Brothers technician, who works for the company that installed Buckeye Lake’s public water distribution system, released water from a fire hydrant on Lake Road. Buckeye Lake Water Tech Toby Miller said it was the first day that public water officially flowed from Buckeye Lake Village, although some water was stored in the pump station since the previous day. Water flowed to the first customer May 3.
Feb. 8: Licking County grant sets housing demolition in motion: Buckeye Lake Mayor Rick Baker announced that Licking County committed $400,000 of its Neighborhood Stabilization Grant funds to demolish 40 blighted properties in Licking County outside the city of Newark. Baker planned to secure as much of it as possible to tear down derelict Buckeye Lake properties. While the program was generally successful for the village, it wasn’t to be without controversy.
April 10: Concerned citizens protest Licking County Animal Shelter’s use of a gas chamber – changes begin: Nearly 200 people, many from other communities, turned out in front of the Licking County Animal Shelter to protest its use of a gas chamber to euthanize non-adoptable animals.
Protest organizer Shelly Myer s called t he protest “Woofstock.” Protesters were looking to change procedures and management of the shelter. They wanted to eliminate the gas chamber and use lethal injections exclusively; they believed that some animals that are not aggressive are being euthanized; they said some staff members are rude to the public; and they called for upper management replacement.
Sept. 30 Dog Warden Jon Luzio retired and the shelter eventually abandoned the gas chamber entirely in favor of only using lethal injection, which is generally considered to be a more humane method of euthanasia.
April 19: Union Township Trustees create trash district: Trustees unanimously approved a township trash district that was effective July 1. Big-O Refuse won a three-year contract to exclusively haul residential waste in the unincorporated portions of the township over three other bidders. Big- O Refuse’s primary bid was $12.45 per month per household, $11.20 for seniors, $5.75 for recycling, $5.15 recycling for seniors, and $2.25 to rent a container. Trustees said the district cut most township residents’ trash collection rates in half.
April 23: ODNR sentences swans to death: Many lake area residents and others were furious over an Ohio Division of Wildlife order authorizing some weekend residents to destroy a Mute swan family, which built a nest on their property at the end of Island Avenue on the South Bank.
Jeffrey Gerling, who owns the property with his sister, Christine Heimrich, said in a written statement to The Beacon that the swans became very aggressive toward Heimrich. Gerling’s statement says and neighbors confirm that the swans, which mate for life, first built a nest in Gerling and Heimrich’s compost area, which is some distance from their home. Gerling said his sister was able to burn the refuse being used for the nest, which they hoped would end the swans’ attempt to nest on their property. Instead, the swans relocated the nest to a flowerbed approximately four feet from the front door. Gerling said the swans became so aggressive that Heimrich could not complete lawn chores. Gerling said the swans were also fouling their sidewalk and destroying landscaping.
Neighbors, who admired the swans, named the pair Sam and Samantha. Some neighbors were horrified to learn Samantha and her two eggs were destroyed. Sam survived. The incident ignited a firestorm of controversy in the Buckeye Lake area and beyond. Mute swans are not indigenous to the United States and have no legal protection, yet many believed Samantha and her eggs’ destruction was cruel and unwarranted. Ohio Division of Wildlife, Wildlife Management Supervisor Gary Ludwig said the destruction permit expired and Sam wouldn’t be destroyed if he never returned to Gerling’s property. So far, Sam never returned.
In a footnote, a boat in the Independence Day weekend boat parade on Buckeye Lake was decorated in memory of Samantha the swan.
May 3: Public water flows to BL customers: Buckeye Lake Service Director Tim Matheny said most customers were paying between $1,000 and $1,500 to connect each home to the distribution system.
Millersport Water Superintendent John Wood – the Village of Millersport supplies bulk water to Buckeye Lake Village – said he’d only noticed an increase in the usage of treatment chemicals and longer water plant pumping cycles as more Buckeye Lake customers begin using Millersport water. Overall, he said, everything went smoothly. Wood said many people many not realize the impact on Millersport’s customer base. The Millersport system services roughly 1,300 Millersport area customers. The Buckeye Lake system adds some 750 customers.
May 29: First Buckeye Lake house demolished: A dilapidated home at 138 2nd St. across from Ryan-Braden Park was the first of nearly 30 Buckeye Lake Village derelict homes that were demolished this year using federal Neighborhood Stabilization Grant funds administered by the Licking County Planning Commission.
A Beacon investigation found that most of the property owners having their inhabitable structures demolished at no cost owe back property taxes. Seven of the properties demolished were owned by the Buckeye Lake Park Company which owes tens of thousands of dollars in delinquent property taxes.
Two of the program participants – Buckeye Lake Planning Chair Karen Cookston and Peter G. Eikenberry et al – have substantial real state holdings and could afford to remove the structures themselves But the grant set no limit on a property owner’s income.
The program failed to reach its anticipated numbers as administrative delays forced the county to return some unspent demolition funds to the state.
On a side note, former Buckeye Lake Village Council member Peggy Wells later accused Cookston of violating zoning regulations when she created a parking lot with grindings from the village street resurfacing project across four residential lots including two where homes were demolished. Buckeye Lake zoning regulations state, “Parking spaces for all detached residential uses shall be located on the same lot as the use, which they are intended to serve.” Wells noted that there are no houses on or attached to any of these lots.
Cookston has defended the lot and it remains. A legal opinion from the village solicitor recommending that Wells’ complaint be denied raises more questions than answers. It calls in question most of the village’s zoning regulations by establishing a “compelling governmental interest” standard “to interfere with the right of ownership and the right to use property you own without governmental restriction or regulation when there is absolutely no prejudice or harm to anyone.”
May 14: Flying J Travel Center receives public water: Public water finally flowed to the Flying J truck stop over the objections of some Kirkersville Village Council members. The Southwest Licking Community Water and Sewer District provides the water. SWLCWSD Director Don Rector said that as projected, the Flying J is one of the highest users of drinking water in the district. The village sued the district for ignoring its objections; some council members believe public water would invite developers and ruin Kirkersville’s rural atmosphere. However, shortly after the initial hearing the village dropped the suit.
July 12: Chemcote contracted to repave Buckeye Lake streets: Buckeye Lake Village Council members approved a $723,000 contract with Chemcote, Inc. of Dublin to repair the streets damaged during installation of the village’s water distribution system.
Chemcote was the low bidder. Not all village roads were repaved. Ohio 79 and Ohio 360 are ODOT’s responsibility and the water line contractor repaired the few cuts made into the roadways. Hilton Road wasn’t repaved because it sustained little damage and was recently resurfaced by Licking County after a wastewater treatment expansion project was completed. The other streets on the no-repair list were Hunts Landing Road, the Carlin Addition, Mill Street, Park Avenue and part of Grandstaff Avenue, mainly because they are privately owned.
A Beacon investigation found that Chemcote wasn’t following contract specifications nor industry good practices by failing to use a tack or bond coat over the existing asphalt surface and failing to thoroughly clean the surface before applying new asphalt. The specification deficiencies were pointed early in the project, but continued throughout the project except for the token use of stack coat at some intersections. The editorials and subsequent questions from a couple of council members did prompt a $51,000 reduction in Chemcote’s contract price.
The Beacon continues to seek a larger refund from both Chemcote and project engineer M•E Companies who billed the village thousands for inspecting Chemcote’s work on a daily basis.
July 22: North Shore Boat Ramp rededicated: Ohio Division of Watercraft Chief Pam Dillon spoke during a formal dedication of improvements made to the North Shore Boat Ramp. The ceremony included Division of Parks and Recreation Acting Chief John Hunter, ODNR Deputy Director Tony Celebrezze, Buckeye Lake Regional Park Manager Tim Waln, and a ribbon cutting. The entire project cost $710,000 with the Division of Watercraft providing $472,500, the Division of Wildlife providing $212,500 and Parks and Recreation providing $25,000.
According to an ODNR news release, the project to improve the North Shore ramp began in 2005 and was completed in two phases. The first phase improved the efficiency of the launch facility and its accessibility for persons with disabilities. The facility’s entrance was widened and tie-down lanes were added. A two-lane ramp was reconstructed and widened to three lanes. Two sets of all new docks meeting current design guidelines replaced a single string of boarding docks. The parking area was expanded.
The second phase provided even more parking and new asphalt, and courtesy and personal watercraft-compatible floating docks.
Summer: Buckeye Lake is spared algal toxins: Harmful algal blooms first appeared this summer at Grand Lake St. Marys. Grand Lake is a canal impoundment lake like Buckeye Lake but is much larger. The algae released harmful toxins that lead to “No Contact” and “Toxin” advisories at nearly a dozen state park lakes during the long hot summer. Grand Lake St. Marys spent much of the summer under a “no contact advisory” which meant “avoid any and all contact with and ingestion of the lake water. This includes launching watercraft on the lakes.” A “Toxin Advisory” meant “avoid contact with any algae and direct contract with water.” Lakes under this advisory included Burr Oak State Park, Deer Creek State Park, East Branch Reservoir, Lake Alma State Park, Maumee Bay State Park and Wingfoot Lake State Park. None of the parks were closed, but the economic damage at Grand Lake St. Marys was substantial as lakefront property values dropped significantly and lake oriented businesses like marinas and restaurants struggled to survive. A recent test of a treatment using alum at Grand Lake was unsuccessful. The blooms are a function of hot, humid weather coupled with excessive nutrients in the water.
Sept. 16: An EF-0 tornado touched down near West Rushville on Fairfield Union Road. It was on the ground for approximately four minutes, moving est for approximately three miles. Homes, barns and outbuildings were damaged, some beyond repair though no one was injured There was extensive damage to trees. It was one of nine tornados confirmed in Ohio. A second Fairfield County tornado touched down outside Tarlton.
Sept. 25: Union Township Trustees purchase church: Citing a need to centralize offices and operations, Union Township Trustees purchased the former Licking Baptist Church and its 7.1-acre lot at 1380 Beaver Run Rd. for $310,000 during a Licking County Sheriff’s auction Sept. 3.
The property’s appraised value was $320,000 and the township was the sole bidder against the Baptist Foundation, which held the mortgage. The church itself is a single story on a concrete slag covering 6,800 square feet. The property includes a covered 36 by 60 feet picnic shelter with a concrete floor and electrical service, a roughly 1.5 acre gravel parking lot, plus an overgrown basketball court and a baseball/ softball field at the rear of the property. The property backs up to four homes. Trustees hope to have administration, records, and the Union Township Police Department in the building by mid-February.
A Beacon editorial raised questions about the purchase, noting that the decision to bid on and ultimately buy the church was made illegally in a closed meeting. Trustees could discuss the purchase in a closed session, but could not make the decision there. The editorial also questioned the price paid and the value of the church relative to the township’s needs. The church can not be used to store fire or road maintenance equipment without extremely costly renovations – roof line is too low and concrete floor too thin.
Oct. 5: Walnut Township Trustees approve a multi-year fire/EMS contract with the Village of Millersport: The long awaited contract turned out to be a false alarm when more than two months later Trustee President Sonny Dupler was able to convince Trustee Ralph Zollinger that the resolutions unanimously approved Oct. 5 were improper because the special meeting with more than 200 residents in attendance had strayed from the announced purpose of the meeting.
The special meeting was prompted by an out-of-the-blue letter drafted by Dupler that would have cancelled the current oneyear contract with Millersport, clearing the way for a townshiprun department to replace the 84 year old Millersport Fire Department.
But Dupler was unable to totally turn Zollinger at the Dec. 14 as he joined with Trustee Terry Horn to approve and ultimately sign a four-year contract with the Village of Millersport. Zollinger requested that the statement, “We will work toward a joint fire district as soon as possible” be added to the contract. Horn agreed and the contract was presented to Millersport Mayor Dean Severance. Village council members unanimously approved the contract a week later.
Nov. 2: Lakewood levy barely wins at ballot: Lakewood School District’s additional 9.9 mills levy held a tiny lead after the November elections, but no one celebrated until weeks later. The unofficial tally was 2,990 votes for the levy to 2,985 against. However, the unofficial results didn’t include provisional ballots, which weren’t tallied until Nov. 23. When all the votes were counted, the levy was approved by a 3,060 to 3,026 vote – a difference of 34 votes and just three votes beyond triggering a mandatory recount. The approval spared the district from cutting $4.4 million from its budget, which included major staff reductions including teachers, cutting bussing to state minimums and eliminating all extracurricular activities.
Voters rejected the same levy last August in a special election by a 1,763 to 1,687 vote. That lost was preceded by a May loss by a 2,380 to 2,170 vote. The first effort to replace revenue lost as the State of Ohio’s multi-year phase out of the personal property tax wound down was for an additional 8.9 mill levy that voters trounced in November 2009 by a 2,971 to 1,798 tally. The personal property tax was primarily assessed on business equipment and inventory.
Nov. 6: Sheridan Generals complete a perfect season at home: RMA or “Right Mental Attitude” lead the Sheridan Generals to an 11-1 season and a No. 2 ranking in Division III. The high scoring Generals were undefeated during the regular season and bested Salem 41-13 in a regional quarterfinal at home. A heartbreaking sudden death playoff loss ended their season in a regional semifinal against 10-2 Dover
Nov. 7: New Thornville/ Thorn Township Fire Station opens: A new 9,380 square feet, $910,000 fire station relieved the cramped quarters of the former station in downtown Thornville with plenty of room for the department’s two squads, two rescues, grass truck, tanker truck, and up to 61 members.
Nov. 15: Union Township Trustees unanimously approved a contract with the Hebron Fire Department following a year of negotiations. EMS billing revenue and how it’s used and distributed were the main sticking points in negotiations.
The contract covers 2010, 2011, and 2012, and Union Township is responsible for 60 percent of the Hebron Fire Department’s operational expenses each year. The township will paid $607,829.00 for 2010 and will receive 100 percent of the EMS billing revenue generated in the unincorporated areas of the township, which excludes Hebron and Buckeye Lake villages, and other mutual aid calls. The township may use the income as it wishes.