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Trustees upset ODNR ignored them on dam report

JACKSONTOWN – Monday night, Licking Township Trustees agreed they were disappointed trustees were not invited to a state sponsored tele-conference and an emergency management planning meeting regarding Buckeye Lake’s future, and how the state plans to deal with an Army Corps of Engineers grim assessment of the Buckeye Lake dam; the report concludes that dam failure is only a matter of time.

“We were just like non-existent,” said Trustee President Joe Hart. He said local officials are in a precarious position when members of the media are privileged to information from the state before local officials. Hart said people call trustees to verify information they heard or read in the news, and trustees haven’t even had a chance to review the material.

Trustees unanimously approved a letter to Ohio Governor John Kasich and ODNR Director James Zehringer expressing their disappointment in the lack of prompt information from the state as well as other issues.

According to the letter, “The US Army Corps of Engineers report released March 11 raises a number of critical issues impacting Licking Township residence and property owners. The safety of residents and visitors is obviously our top priority. We are disappointed that as township officials we were not included in the March 11 teleconference, nor sent a copy of the report or invited to the March 16 EMA meeting. A significant portion of Buckeye Lake’s eastern and northern shoreline is in Licking Township and our township fire department provides assistance to the Buckeye Lake and Hebron Fire Departments. It is essential that all Buckeye Lake area first responding agencies be included in the development of risk reduction measures and ultimate corrective actions.”

“While public safety must be the top priority, we urge you not to forget the importance of preserving the Buckeye Lake area economy. Very significant numbers of jobs, businesses, and property investments will be lost if a basic recreational season is not maintained at Buckeye Lake during the years needed to design and construct the dam improvements.

“Low summer water levels in Buckeye Lake combined with the loss aeration from power boats and a much higher concentration of phosphorous in the water is the perfect incubator for toxic algae. As you know, toxic algae is a contact hazard for humans, pets, and wildlife. That risk should not be ignored as the corrective action plan is being developed.

“Licking Township property owners, residents, visitors, and first responders are on the front line. Licking Township should be an active partner in the development of the corrective action plan. Please include us in future communications and meetings.”

In other township news:

• Trustee Dave Miller said Dawes Arboretum changed its schedule to cut down many dying and potentially hazardous trees. March 2, Trustees agreed to work with Dawes to remove more than 65 dying and dangerous trees along White Chapel Road. Miller said there’s a concern the trees could fall on power lines or even onto White Chapel Road traffic. He said if Dawes and the township work together to pull down all the trees at once, it could save the township $4,000 to $5,000 over trying to pull them down in small numbers over time. Plus, pulling them all down at once increases safety. Trustees estimated the entire project should cost around $10,000, with the township and Dawes sharing the cost.

Trustee John Holman said Dawes still wants to remove the trees, but wants to do so in the winter months so heavy equipment doesn’t damage the landscape. “They wanted to start on it last week, but the environment didn’t cooperate,” he said.

• Trustees gave Licking Township Fire Company Chief Mike Wilson a glowing review on his annual job evaluation. “He’s a very competent fire chief,” said Miller. He said Wilson possesses excellent management skills, is a great team leader, and an “asset” to the township. “The chief’s a good guy,” Miller said.

Holman said Wilson continues to reduce the fire department’s expenditures. “That’s extremely commendable,” he said.

• Miller said the township’s “Clean-up Day” is actually the weekend of April 25 and 26. He said the county will provide a dumpster for trash and the township may help transport trash as well. “We’re still working out the details,” Miller said. Also, tire clean-up day is May 16. Both events take place at Station #3.

• Miller said the eighth progress meeting for the Jacksontown Sanitary Sewer Improvements project Wednesday went smoothly and he believes contractors are still on track to complete the project by late May or early June.

Miller said Licking County grants coordinator Susan Spiker said a $6,000 per household grant to help residents afford to tie onto the sewer system is still open, and the annual household income level necessary to qualify for the grant has lowered. “Only 12 people have applied,” Miller said. “Anyone who has applied should reapply.” Spiker can be reached at (740) 670-5200.

Miller said affected residents have 90 days to tie onto the system once it’s complete.

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