MOUNT VERNON — A wise man once said that a glacier is what one rides to race past bureaucracy. And even bureaucratic gears grind faster than civil engineering.
But the two processes have begun cranking, with the lubrication of a tax levy passed last year to support the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District’s project funding. The levy was specifically for funding several major maintenance issues within the district, which covers all or portions of 18 Ohio counties, stretching from the North Branch Kokosing Reservoir in Knox County to the city of Marietta on the Ohio River. Plans for resolving these maintenance issues have begun.
According to the MWCD’s Darrin Lautenschleger, northeast Coshocton County’s Mohawk Dam is one of the top priorities, as it has been named the U.S. dam in seventh-most urgent need of major repair or replacement. Completed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1937, the dam was projected to have a 50-year life of service holding back excess water when the Walhonding River floods. The Walhonding is formed by the confluence of the Kokosing and Mohican rivers.
Seventy-two years later, the dam is holding, although problems with water seepage beneath the dam and permeable ground surrounding and underlying the structure have drawn USACE’s attention. Although the dam was classified in need of “urgent” attention, that is only USACE’s second-highest classification. In other words, the dam needs replacement, but is not in immediate danger of failure.
The problem in the MWCD is that four other dams and a levee in the district are in the same condition. Lautenschleger said plans have begun for the rehabilitation work on the Dover Dam, and the preliminary reports on the others are due in December. USACE estimates are projecting the Mohawk Dam work to be the most expensive repair in the district, costing approximately $195 million, with the MWCD contributing $44.9 million of that sum. A contract for the construction work is expected to be awarded in January 2013. The intervening time will allow for engineers to identify the design details that will assure more decades of use for the dam.
The Bolivar Dam, the Beach City Dam and the Zoar Levee are also in need of extensive work. All five projects are forecast to have a combined price tag of $635 million to $685 million. In accordance with U.S. law, the majority of those expenses will be covered by the federal government, but the law also requires a local contingent of funding, which is matched by funds from the MWCD. The MWCD’s portion of these projects is expected to be between $125.6 million and $137.1 million over the next five years. This considerably outpaces the conservancy’s previous income of about $10 million per year, derived from recreational facilities and natural resources management.
The MWCD receives no direct support from the State of Ohio, although it does frequently apply for grants to help particular smaller-scale projects. Those funds are expected to be harder to get in the coming year due to the state’s budget crunch.
Lautenschleger said the MWCD staffs 90 permanent employees and an additional 150 summer employees. Levy proceeds can only be proportionally applied to employee salaries based on what percentage of each employee’s work is involved with the major maintenance projects described in the tax levy.
Lautenschleger added that rehabilitation of Mohawk Dam and other parts of the watershed will not only have benefits downstream.
“We’re all part of the same watershed,” Lautenschleger said, explaining that slowing floodwaters downstream reduces the amount of water coming from upstream, thus reducing erosion and sedimentation there. These controls improve the water quality throughout the watershed.
The economic impact of jobs, recreational facilities and unimpeded travel are significant benefits as well, Lautenschleger said, citing the USACE’s estimate that the flood control systems in the MWCD have saved the area $7 billion in flood damages in the last 75 years.