By Tim Cox
Mercer County Commissioners plan to schedule a public meeting to allow residents to weigh in on whether they want the state to intervene in flooding issues along the Beaver Creek.
Steve Zumberge, who sought the meeting from the commissioners, said the state's lack of management of the level of Grand Lake has led to periodic flooding problems. Zumberge is one of several area farmers who sued the state regarding flooding on their land that they linked to construction of the West Bank spillway several years ago.
The lake level should be maintained at a lower level to prevent flooding, Zumberge said.
County officials should take the lead in pursuing a change in state policy toward management of the lake's level, Zumberge told commissioners. Currently, the state has a "hands off" approach, keeping as much water in the lake as possible, he said.
"It's causing a larger flood zone than was ever there before," Zumberge said. Zumberge also is enlisting the help of the nonprofit Lake Improvement Association and State Rep. Keith Faber, R-Celina. Zumberge said he hopes to build a local consensus before approaching state officials about making changes.
Not everyone favors overall lower lake levels, Commissioner Bob Nuding said.
"There is a huge amount of people who want the level high for recreational purposes," Nuding said.
"It has to be the residents of the county, not just the people who are here on the weekends, who need to make this decision," Zumberge said.
Commissioner Jim Zehringer suggested that Ohio Department of Natural Resources officials be invited to the meeting to provide answers.
"Why not have the big wheels down here?" Zehringer said.
State officials might not show up for the meeting due to the ongoing litigation involving the spillway, officials said.
Commissioners will establish ground rules for a public meeting and decide who should be invited before staging the event later this month or in July. Zumberge said he hopes the public will support seeking a long-term fix to periodic flooding problems along the Beaver Creek and the south side of the lake.
"We're just a small group. The state isn't going to do anything for only a few people," Zumberge said.
The lawsuit over the flooding caused by the spillway remains ongoing in the Third District Court of Appeals in Lima, said J. Anthony Logan, the attorney representing the five farmers suing the state. The court is expected to set a date for oral arguments from both parties in the next 90 days, Logan said this morning.
Suing the state are Zumberge, 4422 state Route 29, Leo Post, 882 Carmel Church Road, Richard Baucher, 3417 state Route 29, Terry Linn, 7018 Ohio-Indiana State Line Road, and Emily Minch, 7135 state Route 49.
The lawsuit ended up in the appeals court when the Ohio Department of Natural Resources in January appealed a ruling in Mercer County Common Pleas Court in favor of the farmers. In that December decision, visiting Judge Lawrence Grey ruled that there had been an "illegal taking" of 500 acres of the farmers' land by the state due to recurring flooding caused by the spillway built in 1997. He also ruled the farmers were entitled to damages from the state and that the damages should be determined during a jury trial.