The integrity of the dam at Buckeye Lake has thrown area officials, businesses and homeowners into the great unknown, left deciding what to do next.
The United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) concluded that the dam’s structural integrity is at risk of catastrophic failure with all options to remedy the problem, including draining the lake, still on the table.
“We are staying up with it,” Perry County Commissioner Jim O’Brien said. “This is a situation that could have a domino effect on not just Perry County but all three counties (that border the lake).”
O’Brien said he knows of at least one person with a deal to sell property along the lake fall through because of the Engineer’s report. Businesses, including the nearly 80 along the lake, will be affected if the lake is closed, O’Brien says those surrounding the Lake could also take a hit.
“The ones on the water are not the only places that will be affected (if the lake closes),” said O’Brien. “There’s a market where the summer people go for their steaks, gas stations, places where people go for ice cream. Anyone in range of this will be affected deeply.”
“We are concerned about the citizens of our communities, said Tim Figgins, managing partner of Boat Boys. “We are neighbors, colleagues, friends, brothers, and sisters in our love for being on the water. We are open to the idea that the dam needs updated. We are open to the idea it needs replaced altogether,” states Figgins. However, he expressed his disappointment in the ODNR for not upgrading West Bank with sheet pile walls and more backfill and his disagreement with the facts as presented in the USACE report.
The USACE conducted a yearlong study on the structural integrity of the dam at the request of Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), the Engineer’s summary released March 14 found serious problems with the 4.1 mile long dam. ODNR Director, James Zehringer stated, “The safety of the more than 3,000 people potentially affected in the inundation zone is our top priority.” Zehringer explained that the ODNR would begin work immediately with emergency and first responders to develop response plans and ensure public safety. “Our technical experts are reviewing the Corps’ findings, and we hope to have a decision for our way forward in the next couple of weeks. After we review the study, we will put together a plan for a long-term strategy. We would like to hear ideas from the public, and we’ve found open houses to be very successful.”
The USACE report claims that the more than 370 homes and other structures built along the lake that have been sunk into the earthen dam embankment weakened the dam and that it has been further compromised by the pools, patios and other drainage systems that are built into the dame or caused portions to have been dug away as a further cause of damage.
The USACE lists several immediate steps to reduce the risk of dam failure. Keeping the lake at winter pool is imperative to reduce stress on the dam. Building structures of any kind into the dam should not be permitted. Their final suggestions include stockpiling sandbags and enacting an emergency response plan.
The USACE has outlined possible solutions with draining the lake at the top of the list and calling it the “safest solution for eliminating the risk of flooding due to dam failure.” The engineers also say the dam could be replaced and that work should begin immediately to mitigate the current risks.
Meanwhile, the water at the lake is currently being maintained at its lower, winter level at the recommendation of the USACE. The Ohio EMA held an emergency preparedness meeting Monday with local Emergency Management Agencies to discuss plans in the event the dam fails causing an emergency evacuation.