Muskingum conservancy cuts landowners’ assessments

NEW PHILADELPHIA, Ohio — Property owners in the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District will see their assessments paid to the district cut in half beginning next year.

The conservancy board of directors approved a plan April 18 to provide for a 50 percent reduction in all assessment payments from property owners beginning in 2015. Funds generated from the district’s recent oil and gas leases of its property in the Utica Shale development will cover project costs normally paid for by the assessment funds.

Officials said they will continue to review financial reports to determine if the reductions will be warranted in succeeding years or if further reductions could be enacted due to revenues produced from the oil and gas leases.

Landowners keep $5.5 million

The assessment reduction will result in an estimated $5.5-million overall cut in the amount of assessments collected in 2015 by the MWCD.

The conservancy district instead will use oil and gas funds to fill that gap and ensure that projects to protect and improve the system of reservoirs and dams constructed in the 1930s continue as planned.

The approved assessment reduction also will mean that the owners of commercial and industrial parcels of property who pay the assessment will see an overall reduction of nearly $2.3 million in their property tax statements next year.

The MWCD collects about $11 million annually in assessments from property owners in the Muskingum River Watershed.

Revolving loan fund

John M. Hoopingarner, MWCD executive director/secretary, said the district is also developing a watershed project funding program that will involve establishment of a revolving loan fund that also will use the MWCD’s oil and gas revenues as its startup funds.

“What we envision overall is to work with an appropriate agency to establish the fund for access by the local township, municipal and county governments and other agencies in the MWCD region for important projects to promote and protect water quality and flood reduction,” Hoopingarner said.

Oil and gas leases

During the meeting, the board also approved its fourth large-acre lease for Utica Shale development by voting to enter into an agreement with Antero Resources of Colorado for more than 6,300 acres of MWCD property at Piedmont Reservoir in Belmont and Harrison counties.

According to the terms of the lease, the conservancy districty will receive a signing bonus of $15,000 per acre, plus a share of 20 percent of the royalties from the production of the lease.

Another 300 acres of the Piedmont property is being finalized and will be added to the lease later.

MWCD officials said they expect up to two well pads to be located on MWCD property according to the terms of the lease at Piedmont, with other well pads located on adjacent properties.

They also stressed the environmental safeguards built into the lease and said that many of the lease’s stipulations were developed through input from a public meeting held about the lease process in January at St. Clairsville.

Substantial bonuses

To date, the MWCD has earned $77.8 million in signing bonuses for the leases it has entered into and about $3 million in royalty revenue.

The funds have been used to pay down the MWCD’s debt, improve public access and to begin planning and work on a $160-million plan to upgrade the MWCD’s recreational facilities, including its lake parks, campgrounds and marinas that it operates.

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