WILMINGTON — City officials hope a meeting held this week will be another step in the right direction leading to a more equitable sharing of costs at Caesar Creek Lake, the city’s primary drinking water source.
The meeting was held Monday at the Ohio Department of Natural Resource (ODNR) headquarters in Columbus.
According to Safety/Service Director Brian Shidaker, there were at least 10 officials from ODNR, and they have a sound understanding of the city’s concerns over the “skyrocketing costs” related to Caesar Creek Lake.
Under a series of contracts between the city, the state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the city is required to pay 12.7 percent of the operations and maintenance costs related to the storage of water at Caesar Creek Lake, including labor-related costs.
The Army Corps determines what costs are passed on and, until recently, provided no information on the specific expenses the annual bills cover.
The state’s only role in the contracts is to pass along bills from the Army Corps and payments from the city. The state retains none of the funds.
Because of the intervention of ODNR and U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers (OH-15th District), the city now has 11 years of data containing thousands of expenses that were the basis of the operations and maintenance bills the city received over the years, Shidaker said.
“As we suspected, the Army Corps has continuously billed us for thousands of items that have nothing to do with water storage,” Shidaker said.
Wilmington Water Superintendent Rick Schaffer examined the data line by line and found that approximately 30 percent of the expenses were presumed to be related to water storage.
However, another 42 percent do not appear to be related to water storage in any manner, he said. Details provided for the remaining 27 percent of expenses were too vague to determine if the charges were legitimate or not.
A few of the items the city is contesting include:
• Bird seed
• Bedding for animals
• Many expenses related to the Visitors Center
• Participation in the Cincinnati Travel, Sports and Boat Show.
• Several expenses related to landscaping, and management of the surrounding forest.
• Unexplained travel by Army Corps employees
For about the first 20 years of the contract, annual operations and maintenance bills averaged between $100,000 and $150,000. The bills skyrocketed to $289,000 in 2017 and $481,000 in 2018, forcing the city to take action.
On Monday, they made a partial payment of $147,209.63 to ODNR for the bill that was due on June 1. Shidaker said the city knows that is is obligated to participate in certain costs at Caesar Creek Lake and the city wants to fulfill its responsibility in the contract.
“But we also owe it to our citizens to ensure that the money we pay goes toward legitimate water storage-related expenses,” he said. “The people at ODNR have been great facilitators in our efforts to be treated equitably by the Army Corps of Engineers.”
According to him, the city did not make a full payment and did what they thought was in the best interest of Wilmington’s citizens. He hopes ODNR will use their information and approach the Army Corps with both the city’s concerns and the state’s questions.
“I want to resolve this matter as soon as possible,” said Shidaker. “My goal is to resolve the vague language regarding operation and maintenance costs in our contract for future generations to come.”
A News Journal call to the Army Corps of Engineers Friday afternoon was not immediately returned.
Reach John Hamilton at 937-382-2574