According to a popular children’s fable, there was once a young Dutch boy who noticed a small leak in the city’s dike on his way to school. A passerby watched him plug the hole with one finger to keep the seawater from trickling in, and others eventually arrived to seal the leak, saving Holland from catastrophic flooding. The story illustrates the importance of acting early and swiftly to prevent disaster, for the small trickle might have become a rushing stream over time.
The story of Buckeye Lake is much more complex. There is no childhood hero coming to save the day, no easy solution. There are only tough choices, and we who want to see the Buckeye Lake community emerge stronger and more prosperous must be willing to make them.
To the casual observer, the 177-year-old lake is a picture of beauty and serenity—the water level seems curiously low, but you may not immediately notice the signs that could shatter the idyllic scene at any time. This month, I visited various sites around the lake with Jim Zehringer, Director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). When you know what to look for, signs of serious structural problems are everywhere—trees and cracks deeply rooted in the lake's dam, seepage and persistent wet areas, and other signs of deterioration.
From an extensive report released by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in March, we know that 370 homes and structures sit on a dam that is structurally compromised and highly likely to fail. Dam failure would endanger the lives of 3,000 people who live within the flood zone and destroy or damage 2,100 homes, 75 businesses, a police station, a fire station and countless other community resources.
In response to the unacceptable level of threat posed by dam failure, I have joined Governor Kasich and Director Zehringer in supporting a $150 million state plan to replace the dam with a new, modern structure in three to five years. The safest solution to minimize the risk of dam failure is to drain the lake entirely, but for now, we can reduce risk by keeping the water level at winter levels and halting the construction of further structures into the dam.
There’s no way around it: doing what is necessary to save the lake from long-term disaster puts many business owners and homeowners in a tough spot in the short term. I empathize deeply with the folks who feel that they have been handed a raw deal. I wish there were a less intrusive way to build the new dam structure—but I’ve built a public service career on telling people the truth, even if it’s not what they want to hear.
The truth is that the next several years will be tough, but Buckeye Lake will soon be the envy of all inland lakes in the state. A safe new dam means cleaner and deeper water, safer boaters, thriving businesses and higher property values. Right now it may be difficult for many people to believe that this vision can become reality, but I will work tirelessly to make sure it does. I will do everything in my power to ensure that reconstruction of the dam is completed as efficiently and quickly as possible.
If like the little Dutch boy I could solve Buckeye Lake’s problems by plugging a crack in the dam with one finger, I would do it. But reality is decidedly less convenient, and a problem that has developed over decades won’t disappear overnight. What I can do is stand with the residents and business owners of Buckeye Lake every step of the way, confident that together we are building a more stable and prosperous lake.
Watch this video for more information about the work being done on the lake: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kvsEDpqZoHI.
For additional information and updates on the project from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, visit http://engineering.ohiodnr.gov/buckeyelake#status.