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Friday, June 23rd, 2017

State removing last of cut trees

West Bank will be made into a grassy, stump-free area

By William Kincaid

Remaining trees at the bottom of Grand Lake's west bank slope in Celina will lik. . .

CELINA - Grand Lake St. Marys State Park Manager David Faler said some of his staff and Ohio Department of Transportation employees likely will begin next week to remove the remaining felled trees on the west bank.
However, it's going to take a long time before the once tree-lined west bank slope is converted into a graded, stump-free grassy area, Faler told Grand Lake Rotarians on Thursday morning during an update about efforts to protect Grand Lake's earthen dams.
"All I can tell you is we will continue to work," he said. "We are working on it and it is going to take a long time, and hopefully we see some help from Columbus eventually to get it finalized."
Most of the big trees, reaching as far back as 500 feet from the lake, have already been removed, but some that were cut down remain on the bottom of the dam slope. They will be targeted for removal beginning next week, he said, adding the work could take up to three months.
"Next week, (there's) a good possibility that you'll start seeing some ODOT machines, and I'm going to pull my whole staff off of mowing next week and we're going to clean up between (U.S.) 127 and (West Bank Road)," Faler said. "Hopefully we can get it back to looking decent."
The trees will be set out in designated areas for people to pick up for firewood.
Though there's no definitive time frame, the next steps are to remove the stumps, regrade the area and plant grass.
"Eventually what (west bank) will look like is ... there will be no trees on it; there will be no stumps on it. It will be regraded, and it will be reseeded, and it will be nothing but grass and it will be maintained as just grass," he said.
Earlier this year, Southwest District Park Manager Brian Miller said the work is part of a statewide effort to protect the integrity of Ohio Department of Natural Resource's dams.
Miller had said Gov. John Kasich's administration has made safety, including dam safety, a top priority. ODNR owns and maintains 177 dams, 56 of which are defined as potentially hazardous Class 1 dams, which could create deadly conditions if they fail.
The trees had to be cleared because their roots cause internal soil erosion, Faler said.
"So as the tree grows, it pushes that clay out and then, just like everything else, they eventually die and it comes down, and water can follow that root line," he said. "So the best thing is to remove those trees, remove those stumps and come back later and recompact the clay."
Most of the targeted trees have been cut down.
Workers are clearing the embankment of trees to 10 feet behind the toe of the dam from Celina city limits to Coldwater Creek. On the upstream side of the ditch, trees are being cleared from up to 60 feet of the roadway, Miller said.
ODNR personnel using ODOT equipment removed brush and small trees. That work, according to Faler, made it easier and safer for ODNR's Division of Forestry personnel to fell the larger trees.
However, a dispute between state agencies and a property owner has left a small stand of trees - about 1,300 linear feet - along West Bank Road, as both parties claim ownership.
"But as far north and as far south as we are, that's as far as we're going," he said.
The work is crucial to protect both citizens and their properties, he argued, saying the 13,500 acres of six-feet-deep water would wipe out either Celina and/or St. Marys if the dam failed.
Faler told Rotarians to remember that officials are carrying out an unfunded mandate, one that "put me in the red about $12,000, just what we did," he said, noting much of the endeavor is being done in-house or in collaboration with other state agencies.
He admitted that he was disheartened to see the trees removed. He told the newspaper thousands of trees, from saplings to fully mature trees, were cleared.
"It's never going to look like it did," he said. "I always thought it was so beautiful ... especially in the fall, it's just like those pictures you see in Maine - full canopy of colors."
Yet the clearing is essential to preserving life and property, he said.
"It's a Class 1 dam, which means if there's a dam breach there will be a catastrophic loss of life and loss of land," he said. "The governor wants it done, we're going to do it, and it is the responsible thing to do."  
The project was not driven by Kasich alone, he said.
"It's not just the governor. It is a federal law by the Army Corps of Engineers that dams must be maintained and free of wooden debris," he said. "It wasn't just pulled out of the air somewhere. It is a law."
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