MOUNT VERNON — A recent site visit to the Knox Cattle Company Dam shows that although areas need repaired, the dam's condition has not changed since the last inspection on Nov. 18, 2015.
Mia Kannik, program manager for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Water Resources, inspected the Yauger Road dam on July 24 along with Mayor Richard Mavis, City Engineer Brian Ball, and Law Director Rob Broeren. Jerry Harper, Michael Haughton, and Lee Rhodes — property owners in The Landings — joined the group.
“The condition of the dam is unchanged from the last inspection,” Eric Heis, public information officer for ODNR, told Knox Pages in an email. “The dam is due for its next five-year dam safety inspection in November 2020.”
According to Mavis, several areas need attention:
- The rock channel for overflow has begun to erode on the west side of the lake.
- The top of the dam has areas where geese, muskrats, and other wildlife have created indentations; when it rains, those indentations become troughs.
- The overflow pipe is overgrown and also needs work.
- The weir on the east side of the lake is almost completely washed out and needs repaired.
Mavis said that ODNR did not put a time frame on when the repairs must be completed.
“I got the sense that ODNR didn't want to do this,” he said. “I think they want the locals to take care of it. If the landowners or city don't do it, they would step in. I think they will probably wait and see what we will do.”
“It is the dam's owners who are responsible to operate and maintain their dam in compliance with Ohio's dam safety laws,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, the private ownership of this dam is being disputed between a number of private parties. It is our understanding that the city is attempting to resolve the situation by offering to make the necessary repairs to the dam and then assess the appropriate private parties for the cost of the repairs.”
Mavis said that if nothing is done, ODNR will determine who is responsible and send a letter outlining the need for a study and repair. If the landowners ignore ODNR, the issue goes to the Ohio Attorney General's Office which would send a similar letter. If still nothing is done, the case would be referred back to the Knox County Common Pleas Court.
“They then would have an action that would order the owners to do the repairs,” said Mavis. “Unfortunately, what we don't have a good handle on is what those repairs will cost.”
When asked why the city doesn't wait and let ODNR take the lead — and the heat — for enforcing the repairs, Mavis replied, “I think as a city we do have some obligation. They are a subdivision approved by the city.”
Referring to the tangled mess of ownership — which involves legal disputes, one homeowner's association discontinuing annual payments for 72 lots for upkeep of the dam and lake, and developer Jerry Baker issusing quit claims unbeknownst to property owners — Mavis said that ODNR has written several individuals stating they are responsible for the repairs because they own the dam.
“I don't think ODNR is going to look further for ownership,” he said. “I don't think because of a quit claim, five or six people are responsible. We've done some research and identified 151 properties in The Landings.”
The city does not have the money in its general fund to cover the cost of repairs. In taking a leadership role, the administration has proposed transferring $300,000 from the city's reserve fund: $100,000 for an engineering study ($40,000-$50,000) and drawing up plans for repairs, and $200,000 for actual repairs.
Spending the reserves takes five of seven votes from council. However, three council members, along with the council president, are barred from discussing and voting on the transfer because of a conflict of interest. Transferring the money is the subject of a one-hour public hearing set for Monday at 6 p.m. at The Station Break.
“I think the most difficult issue is who will pay,” said Mavis. “If we do the money and the work, we will be sending a bill.”
The money transfer is up for a second reading in Monday's legislative session. A bill that allows the city to put unpaid repair costs on a property owner's tax bill is also up for a second reading.
Mavis said that the current ordinance states that property owners must pay costs within 10 days or be taken to court.
“We felt we needed to modify and soften that approach and be able to put it on their taxes,” said Mavis.
When asked whether he had concerns about the effects of using the reserve money or that property owners will not pay their assessment, Mavis said the city had projected 10 years of savings to go toward replacing the Plaza building.
“If the authority is given to put it on their taxes, if it's unpaid it will go to foreclosure,” he said. “So there would be some teeth in it.”
Mount Vernon City Council will hold a public hearing on Monday, Aug. 12, to discuss transferring $300,000 from its reserve fund for dam repairs. The hearing will be from 6 to 7 p.m. at The Station Break, 160 Howard St. Council will reconvene at 7:30 at City Hall for its regular legislative session.