NEW PHILADELPHIA, Ohio – A crowd of fired-up residents from the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District shouted protests and objections during a public hearing Feb. 16. Some shouts objected to the proposed assessment in the district and some shouts objected to the format of the meeting.
Either way, many residents disagreed with the district’s plans.
The proposal. The Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District is proposing a 20-year, $270 million maintenance plan that will be funded through an assessment to landowners in the district’s 18-county jurisdiction.
Residential and agricultural property will be assessed $12 per parcel. Commercial and other property will be assessed individually with a formula process.
The assessment has been the source of much discontent among those living in the watershed.
“You have no defined plan on where, how and when any of the work will be done,” said Noble County resident Melanie Wintrich.
She also admonished the district for not keeping up with maintenance.
“This is all work that should’ve been going on for the last 70 years,” she added.
Unorganized forum. Conservancy district personnel began the public comment portion of the hearing by telling those who wished to speak they would address the board of appraisers in a one-on-one manner, instead of stepping up to a microphone. Many at the meeting were unsatisfied with this approach and took their chairs to the front of the room where they sat surrounding the board in order to hear the speakers.
Even after speakers were given the option of using a microphone, the crowd remained at the front of the room.
Maintenance concerns. Several watershed residents commented about the apparent lack of maintenance over the last seven decades.
“We are being asked to give you money for things that should’ve been done over the past 70 years,” said Dover resident Will Handrich. “This thing is being steamrolled through and the voice of the people is not being heard.”
James Lockard of New Philadelphia said the district’s plan is wrong.
“I don’t want this $12 added to my taxes,” he said.
Richard Moore of Harrison County said, if necessary, he will raise the money he needs to appeal the assessment in state and federal courts.
However, not everyone who spoke disagreed with the district’s proposal.
Definition of a parcel. Kim Davis, a Farm Bureau state trustee who serves Carroll, Harrison, Tuscarawas and Jefferson counties, said the Farm Bureau appreciates the board’s consideration in combining land into contiguous acres for the definition of a parcel.
However, she said the Farm Bureau holds the district accountable to stay focused on its original purpose of water quality, flood control and conservation.
David Parham of Carroll County called the methodology a “fair and reasonable approach to the problem.”
“I very much support the approach you’ve taken and I think it makes a lot of sense,” he told the board of appraisers.
According to Nick Krupa, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Muskingum area operations manager in the Huntington district,U.S. Mohawk, Bolivar, Dover and Beach City are among the top 20 U.S. dams in need of repair.
He said the flooding of January 2005 served as a wake-up call to everyone responsible for flood control in the basin and drew attention to the dire need for improvements.
What’s next. The Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District Court will meet at 9 a.m. Feb. 25 in the Tuscarawas County courthouse in New Philadelphia to review the final methodology report from the board of appraisers. Shortly afterward, the board of appraisers is expected to file the conservancy appraisal record, which contains legal information about the assessment process.
There will be a required legal review period and property owners will have the opportunity to object to the assessment on their parcels.
The Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District plans to present the assessment report to the conservancy court in June or July.
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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