Mary Beth Lane | The Columbus Dispatch

BUCKEYE LAKE  – As the Buckeye Lake dam project moves closer to its completion a year from now, homeowners along the dam are discussing what the state will allow them to do with their property.

Property rights, docks and flooding are among the issues that many of the 371 homeowners along the 4.1-mile dam are raising now that the project is scheduled to be done by late next year. About 250 people attended a meeting organized by the nonprofit planning organization Buckeye Lake 2030 Thursday night to ask questions and share opinions.

The issues aired at the meeting demonstrate the competing interests that intersect at the popular resort area 25 miles east of Columbus. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources owns and maintains Buckeye Lake State Park, including the new estimated $110 million dam.

The state began selling lots to private owners as early as the 1800s, but it owns and controls the area from the top of the dam to the lake. The backside of the dam is owned by the individual property owners, who cherish their waterfront yards and want to preserve them without new state restrictions.
Construction crews are working 12-hour shifts on a schedule of 11 days on, three days off to finish the project. The new dam replaces the nearly 200-year-old earthen dam that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said was at significant risk of failure.

Being patient has been hard, said North Bank resident Tom Charles, who was among the throng at the meeting. This big old machine is out in front of your house and a fence. You want it done. But it’s going to be a gorgeous, gorgeous lake when it’s done a year from now. For someone to spend $110 million to make you a nice front yard, you’ve got to appreciate it.
North Bank resident and musician Lee Gilkerson’s song, a Sad Day on the Lake

Today, became a local favorite when he started performing it in 2015 after Gov. John Kasich announced the lake levels would be kept shallow pending dam construction. He said he is feeling better now that the construction end is in sight.

We’re kind of optimistic, said Gilkerson, who attended the meeting with his wife, Lori. The lake looks nice, even viewed through a chain-link construction fence, and the project is almost done, the couple said.

However, the Gilkersons are concerned about flooding. It was among the issues discussed at the meeting. Local officials are developing plans to help residents and farmers find a new path to drain storm water and prevent flooding now that state officials have said they will forbid pumping the overflow through or over the new dam. The Army Corps of Engineers found the old dam was at risk of failure because of defects that included drainpipes penetrating the dam embankment.

The homes built into the old dam, along with decks, patios and trees, also contributed to its erosion, the Army engineers said.

Department officials have said they intend to protect the public investment in the new dam, plus optimize access to state land and the lake. The design provides space for a boat dock for each household along the dam. The top of the dam will be clad in a concrete cap with both grass and a paved path. The path will provide both access for dam-safety inspectors and recreation for walkers, joggers and bicyclists. The old sidewalk in front of the houses is being removed and replaced with a new one about 4 feet from the state property line.
Most homeowners at Thursday’s meeting don’t want the new sidewalk. They said it would encroach on their frontage and would ruin their plans to restore the front yards they traditionally enjoyed before construction began.

We want a 10-foot easement in front of our house, not a new sidewalk, said North Bank resident Jeanne Murray.

Yaromir Steiner, who developed Easton Town Center, owns a lake home and has helped to fund and organize Buckeye Lake 2030, said an easement is one option. Or, he said, homeowners could ask to buy the frontage from the dam top to their homes for a reasonable price.
We need to be speaking to ODNR as equals and come up with solutions,Steiner said. Department officials don’t appear willing to make changes to the plans, however.

State property along the dam will be used as parkland, and for operation and maintenance of the dam after construction,spokeswoman Heidi Hetzel-Evans said in an email. The area between the houses and the access path, which is part of the overall dam system, will be used as a monitoring zone and will provide long-term protection for the dam’s structural elements.