LANCASTER – Nearly 500 lakeside residents and property owners jammed Fairfield County’s Liberty Center meeting room Tuesday night to express their concerns about ODNR’s plans to fix the Buckeye Lake Dam.
The meeting was structured as a Fairfield County Board of Commissioners meeting – the second public meeting on the dam hosted by commissioners since ODNR released the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers assessment of the dam on March 11. Commissioners invited ODNR officials to listen. Present were Rodney Tornes, deputy chief of ODNR’s Division of Soil and Water which includes the Dam Safety Program, and Stephanie Leis, ODNR Public Information Officer. Commission President Steve Davis, who ran the meeting, told the audience that the ODNR representatives were there to listen, not to comment, and they didn’t. Commissioners provided a videographer and a court reporter to make listening easier. Copies will be provided to Governor John Kasich’s office and ODNR.
Davis asked that comments be limited to three minutes each. Ray Bauman of Edgewater Beach suggested forming two-person volunteer monitoring teams that would check the dam twice daily in return for a higher water level.
Karen Cookston of Buckeye Lake spoke twice. She said the delay in making a decision on the water level is already having unintended consequences. Evaporation is a major issue during the summer, she said, and the delay in filling the lake could bring much lower water levels this summer. Cookston added that property appraisals are already being effected. One of her property’s is down $75,000 from a couple of years ago. On her second appearance, she spoke about her 11-year tenure as the Village of Buckeye Lake’s Planning and Zoning Commission chair. When she took over, she asked ODNR if the Commission should treat development next to the dam differently. The answer was “No,” she said. “We’re willing to be part of the solution,” Cookston concluded.
Millersport Mayor Dean Severance expressed concern about the low water impact on Cranberry Bog. “It is a national treasure,” he added. He also expressed concerns about the fate of businesses in general around the lake.
A Village of Buckeye Lake resident said she recently finished a major home renovation f inanced by a constr uction loan. She is now seeking a mortgage loan to pay off the construction loan which requires an updated appraisal. She was told Monday that appraisers have placed a moratorium on Buckeye Lake properties.
North Bank resident Lois Holler said the USACE assessment was just a rehash of previous reports. “It was couched in the most inflammatory terms…You’re not going to get an eight foot wall of water from a six foot lake,” she said. Holler said keeping the water low during the summer meant a very small chance of dam failure would mean a 100 percent change of economic disaster.
A Thornville resident said everyone would be affected by the West Nile-infected mosquitoes breeding in the shallow, stagnant lake water.
Robert Masone, a Lancaster physician and a new Buckeye Lake Village council member, said ODNR-commissioned technical studies in 1997 and 2002 said the dam is safe. “I’m looking for new data (in the USACE report),” he said. “There is no evidence.” Masone said USACE stated that it evaluated the old data with new software. “If there is no breach,” he said, “Full pool it must reach.”
North Bank resident Dave Hor ning also referenced the 1997 report done by Paul Rizzo Associates for ODNR. “There is a lot more science in this report.” He said the study found the dam could support full pool plus a temporary pool five feet higher.
West Bank resident Kreig Babbert who has been working on the dam issue for years with the Buckeye Lake Area Civic Association asked, “Why hasn’t ODNR maintained the dam?” He said the last significant investment was in 1992-95 to construct the Seller’s Point spillway. “The people of Buckeye Lake shouldn’t have to pay for ODNR’s mismanagement,” he concluded.
Buckeye Lake for Tomorrow board member and Harbor Hills resident Matt Baumann said Buckeye Lake has the second largest population of fish in the state. Winter water levels will kill many fish and by August there will be horrible toxic algae blooms, he said.
Buckeye Lake for Tomorrow president and Feeder Creek Veterinary Service co-owner Steve DeBruin said “Our governor has worked real hard on job creation. This whole thing is like job destruction.”
Buckeye Lake KOA Kampground co-owner Mike Groseclose said, “This is going to kill my business.” He said reservations are already being cancelled. “Somebody has to do something quick.”
When no more residents or property owners wanted to speak, Davis invited the politicians present to speak. Licking County Commission President Tim Bubb said, “I think you feel a little deceived. We are as frustrated as you are.” He added that there would be an answer on the use of the lake for the rest of this year Thursday morning. “You got the nuclear bomb dropped on you last week,” Bubb added. Almost everyone raised their hand when he asked how many present would agree to a lower water level as long as it allows recreation. All three Licking County Commissioners were present.
Commissioner Jim O’Brien spoke for the three Perry County Commissioners who were also present. “We’re (Fairfield, Licking and Perry commissioners) working as a unit,” he said.
State Representative Bill Hayes urged the audience to send emails on this issue to him at Rep72@ohiohouse. gov. He promised to personally deliver them to Kasich and ODNR Director James Zehringer.
State Representative Tim Schaffer said he had a previously scheduled meeting with Kasich Tuesday afternoon and they discussed Buckeye Lake for about an hour. “He is going to make the right decision,” he said. Schaffer noted that Kasich made a visit to Buckeye Lake on his own Tuesday afternoon. State Senator Troy Balderson, who represents Fairfield and Perry counties among others, said, “We are trying very hard. We have to do this together.”
State Senator Jay Hottinger, who represents Licking County, was a notable absence.