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Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

Mercer County orders state to pay share of Beaver Creek upkeep

ODNR is a no-show at hearing on ditch issue

By Shelley Grieshop
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources will be added to the list of property owners billed for future ditch maintenance work along Beaver Creek after state officials failed to appear at a public hearing Tuesday.
The hearing was held at the Mercer County commissioners office and attended by three members of the county engineers office, two local residents and Rick Muhlenkamp of the Mercer County Soil and Water Conservation District.
No one present contested the county engineers proposal to make ODNR a benefiting and responsible party for all clean-up efforts along Beaver Creek. ODNR will be billed almost $15,000 annually. The agency can appeal the commissioners' unanimous ruling by filing a motion with the county common pleas court, according to the Ohio Revised Code.
County Engineer Jim Wiechart said he feels ODNR has a responsibility to help pay for annual work such as weed spraying and erosion control along Beaver Creek because the agency governs Grand Lake, which flows into the creek at the spillway along West Bank Road in Celina. The lake continues to contribute to the ditch's degradation, he added.
Wiechart said the state-owned and operated spillway and its dynamics negatively impact the Beaver Creek watershed, and he feels neighboring landowners shouldn't solely be burdened with the maintenance fees.
ODNR was exempted from paying the annual fees following an extensive upgrade of the 36,800-acre watershed in 1984, which was designed to increase water flow and prevent erosion to nearby land. Following the project, property owners along the waterway were assessed an annual fee equal to 2 percent of the project cost.
At that time, a special commissioners board was tapped - due to conflicts of interest with board members at the time - and they granted an indefinite exemption to ODNR for the annual maintenance fees. In exchange, ODNR offered to pay 66 percent of the project cost.
Wiechart said Tuesday that special board did not have the power to make a deal with ODNR and the contract should be considered void. Their job was specifically to review the proposed ditch project and approve or disapprove it, he said.
The county's attorney, Assistant Prosecutor Amy Ikerd, has researched the issue and agrees with Wiechart.
Wiechart's opinion on the spillways negative affect on property along the Beaver Creek is supported by recent judgments in two court cases filed against ODNR - one by local farmers who live along Beaver Creek and another by Case Leasing & Rental of Celina, which owns Breakaway RecPlex. Both claimed the spillway is responsible for past and ongoing flooding problems.
Case Leasing was recently awarded $4.2 million for flood damage that occurred in July 2003. The five farmers were paid more than $1 million and are seeking more.
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