City optimistic after meeting with Army Corps, ODNR and Stivers

By John Hamilton -

WILMINGTON — City officials feel contract renegotiations may be on the horizon toward more equitable billing related to Wilmington’s primary drinking water supply at Caesar Creek Lake,

The long-sought meeting with state and federal officials on Monday at the Federal Building in downtown Cincinnati went very well from Wilmington’s perspective, according to Mayor John Stanforth, who attended with other city officials as well as outside legal counsel.

“All we’re looking for is a fair contract, and after this meeting, it’s starting to look like we’re headed in that direction,” Stanforth said, adding that the impression he got from the meeting is that Major General Mark Toy, Division Commander of the Army Corps of Engineers, wants to see something done.

The meeting was chaired by Toy and Congressman Steve Stivers (R-15th District). In addition to staff members from their offices, Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director Mary Mertz and several members of her staff participated.

Wilmington purchases water from Caesar Creek Lake through an agreement with ODNR, which in turn contracts for the water through the Army Corps of Engineers.

The city has been contesting significant portions of the operations and maintenance bills, which have included upkeep and operations of the Visitors Center and other items that appear to have nothing to do with the storage of water.

City Safety/Service Director Brian Shidaker told the News Journal a big part of the discussion was the definition, or lack thereof, for operation and maintenance. According to Shidaker, the Corps acknowledged this aspect.

“The Major General asked his staff to sit down with ODNR and reach a shared understanding of the definition of operations and maintenance and how those terms apply to current and future charges,” said Shidaker. “This is vital to the city because it not only provides budget predictability and stability, but also fairness.”

The city recently received its annual bill, totaling $206,712.35, for July 2017-June 2018 — much less that the previous year’s bill of $481,569.32.

“We are pleased the bill is less than last year’s,” Stanforth said in April, “but after a thorough review, it includes many items the city insists are outside our contractual obligation” which included items ranging from Visitor Center expenses to participation in the Cincinnati Boat Show to sunscreen.

Wilmington obtains the bulk of its drinking water from Caesar Creek Lake. The remaining water comes from city-owned reservoirs at Burtonville.

“Because of substantial investments in the reservoirs and the nearby Cowan Creek dam over the past two years, these city-owned assets have become a more reliable source of quality drinking water,” Shidaker said.

“Thanks to the intervention of Congressman Stivers, we are now negotiating with the Army Corps and ODNR,” Stanforth said. “Having the opportunity to sit at the table with the decision-makers puts us in a position to have a say on matters that benefit our community.”

By John Hamilton