WILMINGTON — The city has received another huge annual water bill through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

It’s another “record-high bill” — for purported operations and maintenance activities at Caesar Creek Lake, the city’s primary water source — according to a statement from Public Works Director Rick Shaffer.

“This year’s bill of $425,410.10 is nearly 10 percent higher than the 2021 bill, which at the time was by far the biggest bill received in the 29-year history of Caesar Creek Lake being a drinking water source,” said Shaffer.

As recently as 2018, the city’s bill was $205,031, and it was $133,437 in 2011. Each annual bill between 1994 and 2012 ranged between $96,848 and $166,296, according to figures provided by the city.

Mayor John Stanforth’s administration and City Council have been questioning the operations and maintenance bills since 2017.

Information from past bills revealed they included items that would not appear to be related to the water supply – such as the visitors center and public education activities. The city has requested a line-item breakdown of the charges in the latest bill.

According to the statement, a series of contracts involving the city, the ODNR, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers allows the city to remove water from the lake. The contracts require the city to pay a portion of the operations and maintenance costs attributable to the water supply.

Under an agreement reached in 1970, the ODNR pays the Corps of Engineers for maintaining and operating the reservoir, and ODNR bills the city for reimbursement.

According to the contract, the maintenance and operational charges are supposed to be limited to those involving flood control and water supply. However, some available receipts list charges for unrelated purposes, such as travel to a Cincinnati boat show, solar panel repairs, a washer and dryer, and a set of American flags.

The hundreds of questionable charges were for things like birdseed, bathroom fixtures, heating and cooling equipment at the visitor’s center, travel expenses, cedar chip bedding for duck boxes, maintenance of nature trails and parking lots, pedestrian bridges, environmental management, water quality testing, tree removal, and community outreach.

In 2020, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost on behalf of the ODNR sued the Army Corps in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims over these charges, which also included a Bobber the Water Safety Dog costume.

In the court case, to which the city is not a party, a U.S. Department of Justice attorney recently took the deposition of Schaffer and has expressed interest in deposing Safety Service Director Brian Shidaker.

“Despite the city’s request for more information explaining the latest bill, nothing further has been provided by the Army Corps or the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. City officials will continue to seek this information and work to ensure that city funds are paying only appropriate charges,” Schaffer stated in the release.

Many other expenses still lacked adequate explanation, including thousands of hours of “labor with no explanation of the work done, which employee was doing it, or how the work relates to operation and maintenance of the Caesar Creek Project,” the suit states.


A graph highlighting the rising expenses from the Army Corps bills.
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2022/04/web1_Screenshot-196-.jpgA graph highlighting the rising expenses from the Army Corps bills. Courtesy photo

By John Hamilton

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Reach John Hamilton at 937-382-2574