Buckeye dam rebuild ahead of schedule

Hebron, Ohio — Buckeye Lake-area residents heard early this month that the project to rebuild the lake’s dam will be completed by the fall of 2018, a full year ahead of schedule.

The news was shared when Ohio DNR hosted a Buckeye Lake dam listening session for the public on March 8 at Lakewood High School in Hebron. Another listening session was scheduled the following night at Millersport Elementary School in Millersport, Ohio.

Ninety-four people attended the informal but informative listening session in Hebron. Unlike previous DNR public hearings on the Buckeye Lake dam project, one or two speakers did not address a seated audience. The format had a dozen different information booths displaying full color posters signifying the various stages of the dam project. DNR and Gannett Fleming personnel answered questions as local citizens rotated throughout the room.

While every station was well attended, two seemed to be busy throughout the evening. Tom Grabow, DNR dredge program administrator, and engineer Robert Kline Jr., vice president of Gannett Fleming, were involved with individuals or small groups throughout the session.

Grabow has been dredging Ohio lakes for more than 20 years. He explained that cutting navigable channels to businesses, restaurants, and ramps is his top priority for Buckeye Lake this season. When asked about the target depth for the dredge effort, Grabow said “we’re going down to the hardpan whether it’s four, five, or eight feet down.” Hardpan is the clay or rock bottom below the silt.

“Farmers like the phosphorus rich silt we can give them, but they don’t want clay or sand in their fields,” Grabow explained.

The east end of Buckeye Lake starting near Captain Woody’s will be targeted this year, according to Grabow.

Finding places to put the dredge material is not limited to a specified distance according to Grabow. However, the water that leaves Buckeye Lake in the dredged sediment must return to the Buckeye Lake watershed. According to DNR Deputy Director Bethany McCorkle, the search for these sites is ongoing.

“We have a handful of promising perspective sites for the dredged material,” said McCorkle.

Across the room, Kline was discussing the next phase of dam construction. He said the procedure his firm was following to rebuild Buckeye’s 4.1-mile dam originated in Japan 30 to 40 years ago.

“The United States is no longer the leader in technology. We tend to play it safe while foreign countries are taking risks to develop new techniques,” Kline said.

He said the technology in place at Buckeye is very similar to dam projects across the country.

“The levees that failed around New Orleans during the hurricane are being rebuilt using this method,” said Kline.

The next phase of dam construction will be building a 12-foot thick buttress behind the soil mixed cutoff wall. More layers of soil will also be added.

Kline cited several reasons that the first phase of the project was achieved so quickly, but he believes leadership was the key factor.

“You have a governor who took this problem serious,” said Kline.

Also, the lake will be allowed to rise to what the DNR is calling interim summer pool. Interim summer pool will be 12 inches lower than Buckeye’s normal summer pool.

“Buckeye Lake will be open for business,” said DNR spokesman Matt Eiselstein.

Boating will be permitted on the lake. Bass tournament permits will be available. However, last year’s limited speed zone in the west end of the lake will remain in place, reducing most of the lake to idle only waters.

While many attendees welcomed the positive outlook for 2017, one area resident was not pleased with the continued limited speed zone for 2017.

“At interim summer pool, the lake will be where it usually was by July and August. If we could run full speed then, I don’t see why we can’t do so this year,” the resident said.

“It’s a matter of safety,” Eiselstein replied.

By the day the Listening Session took place in Hebron, Buckeye Lake had risen noticeably from heavy rains in early March. The lake needed to rise two feet prior to the rainfall to reach interim summer pool. It appeared to be within six inches of reaching that goal on March 8.

Kline summed up the current progress with a very sobering thought.

“This dam had such extensive damage, it could have failed even without a major rain event,” stated the engineer. “If it had failed, I guarantee you it would have been eight years before the first shovel of dirt would have been thrown to rebuild it.”

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