Margaret Creek Conservancy Subdistrict
As a local sponsor, resident, or concerned citizen of the Margaret Creek Conservancy Subdistrict (MCCD), we would like to apprise you of the current situation with MCCD. A brief description of MCCD and its function will be followed with an updated status of the Subdistrict.
MCCD was formed in 1963 to be the local sponsor for promoting and implementing the 1965 Official Work Plan prepared by the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Soil Conservation Service (now known as Natural Resources Conservation Service-NRCS). The primary objectives of this work plan are to reduce flooding, improve transportation, water storage, provide recreation, reduce erosion, and improve the local economic conditions within the 60.3 square mile drainage area of the Margaret Creek watershed. The Federal & State government, and the sponsors all contributed to complete these goals identified in the work plan. The local sponsors for the district include not only Margaret Creek Conservancy Subdistrict, but also the Village of Albany, Hocking College, Athens County Board of Commissioners, Athens Soil and Water Conservation District, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, and the assistance of Natural Resources Conservation Service.
The official work plan called for the development of six dams and channel rehabilitation within the main stem of Margaret Creek. The MCCD projects were built under the authority of the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act, (Public Law 566), administered by NRCS. Amendments or modifications to the Official Plan have occurred over time and include in 1972 the deletion of the channel work for the main stem of Margaret Creek. In 1981 structure #3, a proposed dam near Enlow Road (Athens County Rd. 80) was deleted from the Official Plan. Modifications to the Official Work Plan are evidenced by review and agreement by the local sponsors.
The five dams constructed are:
Structure #1 (Meeks Lake) constructed in 1972, located on Athens Co. Rd. 19 (Hebbardsville Rd.)
Structure #2 (Lake Snowden) constructed in 1970
Structure #4 (Texas-Eastern or Steel Lake) constructed in 1971, located on Co. Rd. 17 (Fisher Rd.)
Structure #5 (Johnson-French Lake) constructed in 1969, located on Alexander Twp. Rd. 55 (Oxley Rd.)
Structure #6 (Fox Lake) constructed in 1966, located on Athens Twp. Rd. 29 (Brown Rd.)
In 1984 MCCD sold Lake Snowden to Le-Ax Water District to pay for the construction costs of all dams. At that time Le-Ax became a local sponsor and assumed the responsibility of maintaining this site. MCCD retained all amounts received pursuant to the assessment and any future assessments. In 1989 MCCD merged with Hocking Conservancy District (HCD) becoming a Subdistrict of HCD. In 1998 Le-Ax Water District sold Lake Snowden to Hocking College, making Hocking College a local sponsor and responsible for the operations and maintenance of Site #2.
State of Ohio Required Action
The State of Ohio reclassified two dams as High-Hazard Class I dams requiring the dams to safely pass or store 100% of the Probable Maximum Flood. The two dams, although in good condition, have been reclassified due to downstream development and the potential for the loss of life if dam failure were to occur. The details of the alternatives for compliance are identified by NRCS in an assessment report, that can be viewed on this HCD/MCCD website.
Rehabilitation Needs for Fox Lake, Structure #6
In 1983 the State of Ohio reclassified Site #6, Fox Lake, as a Class I High-Hazard structure. The 2009 NRCS assessment report provided a number of alternatives to rehabilitate the dam that include:
1.) Raise the elevation of the dam
2.) Widen the emergency spillway
3.) A combination of these two alternatives
4.) Construct a roller compacted concrete (RCC) chute spillway through the dam to increase spillway capacity
Other options included:
1.) Remove the downstream hazards and enact zoning restrictions within the breach inundation zone to prevent future development. This option is not considered viable due to the extent of development.
2.) Remove or breach the structure to eliminate the capacity of the structure to retain floodwater. This would eliminate the potential for a breach of the structure during a storm event. Since the Operation and Maintenance agreement with NRCS has not expired, this option may require the sponsor to reimburse the Federal Government for any remaining benefits that the structure would provide over the remainder of the lifespan of the O&M agreement. This option is not considered viable due to the local reliance on the flood control benefits provided by the structure.
3.) “No Action” alternative is not viable due to the potential for the loss of life in the downstream development.
Cost estimates for the rehabilitation alternatives at site #6 range from $1 million to $4 million depending on the option selected. No cost estimate was provided by NRCS for the breach of the dam or to remove the downstream hazards.
Rehabilitation Needs for Structure #1, Meeks Lake
Meeks Lake dam built in 1972 was originally designed as a “significant” hazard structure. It protected agricultural floodplain and had a county road about 0.6 miles downstream and two other railroad crossings within another 0.8 miles. No loss of life was envisioned if the dam were to fail. In 1990 the Ohio Department of Natural Resources reclassified Site #1, Meeks Lake, to a Class I High-Hazard structure. The 2010 NRCS assessment report provided a number of alternatives to rehabilitate the dam.
1.) Modify the dam and auxiliary spillway to safely pass or contain the larger runoff from the rainfall required for design of a high hazard structure.
a.) Raise the elevation of the dam and widen the emergency spillway
b.) A second combination to raise the elevation of the dam and widening the emergency spillway
c.) Construct a roller compacted concrete (RCC) chute spillway through the dam to increase spillway capacity
d.) Widen the auxiliary spillway and adding a RCC spillway in the existing embankment
e.) “No Action” alternative is not viable due to the potential for the loss of life in the downstream development.
2.) Ensure that appurtenant structures (riser, internal drains, etc.) meet current NRCS and State Dam Safety Criteria.
3.) Ensure that the sediment pool has a minimum sediment storage capacity that matches the rehabilitated evaluation life period.
Potential rehabilitation alternatives prove to be more limited due to a home on the right abutment of the emergency spillway and a county road on the left of the dam, which precludes adding a second auxiliary spillway in the left abutment. Raising the top-of-dam flood pool increases the depth of flooding on the two homes already in the existing top-of-dam flood pool and possibly brings two additional homes within the flood pool. It also increases the potential depth of flooding on two county roads and one state highway in the upstream flood pool.
The rehabilitation cost estimates range from $500,000 to $1.3 million. The cost for elevating the state highway (SR 681) was not included in the cost estimate. The least costly and detrimental rehabilitation will be the RCC chute at a cost of $770,000 to $890,000. The costs for both Structure #1 and #6 are preliminary estimates only.
The combined estimated cost to rehabilitate Site #6 and #1 in order to pass 100% of the Probable Maximum Flood as required by the State of Ohio, is between $1.8 and $2.1 million. The local share of 35% could exceed $750,000.
Jim Rozelle with Storm Water Engineering (seen as the leading authority on establishing a Reappraisal of Benefits throughout the state) is a consultant for MCCD that estimated the cost of paying back the Federal Government and removing the two dams to be $350,000 more than the 20-year Maintenance Assessment. This is without factoring in the continued maintenance of the other two dams. In addition, the recreation benefits at Fox Lake would be diminished, as well as the loss of flood protection for structures, agricultural land and transportation facilities.
Structure #6 and #1 are eligible for assistance authorized under the Rehabilitation Provisions (PL 106-472) of the Small Watershed Program (PL-566), administered by NRCS. Funding for rehabilitation is based upon a priority ranking system, which considers the potential for dam failure and the potential consequences of dam failure. High hazard structures are given a higher ranking for funding than low hazard structures. The rehabilitation provisions of PL 106-472 can provide 65% of the total cost, but shall not exceed 100% of the actual construction costs incurred in the rehabilitation. The 65% Federal cost share would provide the majority of funds necessary for the rehabilitation of these two dams which reduces the local share to 35%. This 65% is a valuable source of funds that we cannot afford to lose if the Federal governement chooses to eliminate this program.
Before NRCS commits a great deal of time and money for a more detailed environmental study of these structures, assurance is required that the Subdistrict is committed to the rehabilitation of these two dams and can secure the funds necessary for the 35% local share. This study will define the entire scope of the rehabilitation needs.
The District Plan
MCCD has the responsibility and is committed to ensuring that the dams function properly and provide the safety and flood reduction benefits that the projects were designed to provide and the area residents have become accustomed to receiving. In an effort to comply with State and Federal regulations; prevent the loss of life; and to protect the Federal, State and Local investments in these dams, MCCD decided in 2011 to proceed with a “Reappraisal of Benefits”. This was a necessary action to establish a new assessment for funding the district to proceed with the rehabilitation of two dams and continue our efforts to ensure these dams remain effective for future generations.
A maintenance assessment is a legal method to fund a conservancy district, as described in the Ohio Revised Code (ORC 6101). Currently, MCCD receives a maintenance assessment of $4,500 annually to operate and maintain the Subdistrict. Expenses far exceed the revenue generated by assessments and can no longer support the Subdistrict’s day-to-day operations let alone the cost for two rehabilitation projects.
When MCCD became a subdistrict of HCD (1989) all parcels that generated less than $1.00 per year were deleted from the list of assessed parcels. This reduced the number of parcels that were assessed from 4,478 to approximately 1,000 parcels. The majority of these deleted parcels will be reinstated. In 1963, Township Trustees representing residents of The Plains, Ohio petitioned MCCD to be accepted into the Conservancy District boundaries. This was necessary to get a source of potable water for The Plains that Le-Ax Water District could supply. The Plains area was added into the Conservancy District boundaries and residents agreed to an assessment for this future service. The proposed assessment plan identifies parcels within the Watershed and within the Subdistrict boundaries to be subject to the assessment. The BOA determined that parcels like those in The Plains that are within the Subdistrict boundaries but outside the Watershed boundaries would no longer be assessed or assigned an assessment of $0.00.
It was determined by the original MCCD Board of Appraisers that all property owners within the watershed receive benefits from the dams, either directly or indirectly, and would be required to pay the maintenance assessment. Assessments, first levied in 1974, had the benefits based on several factors including property tax values established by the county auditor and adjusted to reflect the “fair market value”, degree of flood reduction, location of properties, and the use of the land to determine the appraised benefit per parcel. The benefit value determined by the Board of Appraisers for each parcel was then compiled to form the Conservancy Assessment Record.
In 2012 the Board of Appraisers (BOA) for MCCD reviewed a number of methods to distribute the assessment among the benefited properties, in a fair and equitable manner. The BOA concluded that the assessments would be based upon each parcel’s contribution of runoff into the Margaret Creek Watershed
MCCD is completing the readjustment of benefits on which assessments are based, as per the Ohio Revised Code (ORC) 6101. Benefits received from the system of dams are primarily based on property values and those values can change over time. Some property values increase and some decrease. The ORC allows for this fluctuation in property values and permits the “Reappraisal of Benefits” to be conducted once every six years. MCCD has never conducted a “Reappraisal of Benefits” although permitted by State law. The assessment is a charge included on the property owner’s tax bill in which property owners could see a change in their MCCD assessment in 2014.
Once completed, property owners will see a change in their assessment for a variety of reasons, including property value change, improved calculation techniques for determining assessments, and development within the floodplain. The increase in revenue for the District will enable the District to provide for the operations and maintenance of the four dams, and the rehabilitation of two dams, as previously discussed.
MCCD became a Subdistrict of HCD in 1989 due to financial problems and relied on HCD for financial support to cover the indirect and some of the direct costs to operate the Subdistrict. The proposed 20-year assessment plan considered the costs involved for the dam upgrades, general operation and maintenance, a replacement reserve, engineering, administration, directors, appraisers, court costs, legal fees, dam safety permits, and insurance costs. These estimated costs were then summed to complete the 20-year assessment plan and is estimated to average $167,000 annually. The Board of Appraisers using the total number of assessable parcels within the watershed and the knowledge of the revenue needed to fund the Subdistrict determined the average assessment for a residential parcel to be $25.00 per year. The only people who will be assessed for the flood protection system are property owners within the Subdistrict and within the watershed, which include parts of Athens, Alexander, Lee, and Waterloo townships. Approximately 5,400 parcels will be subject to the assessment.
Once the reappraisal of benefits and the assessments are established property owners may use the website to see their current and anticipated assessment by selecting MCCD, the assessment tab and then the current and projected assessment tabs. The assessment will be in a pdf format by numerical order of the parcel number. The property owner will need the parcel identification number of their property to ensure they select the correct parcel in order to review their assessment.
In 2011 MCCD contracted with Jack Faucett Associates (JFA) to conduct the Benefit Analysis. The primary purpose of the analysis was to evaluate the benefits and costs of the Margaret Creek Watershed projects, including the proposed activities in the 20-year Project Plan. For the Conservancy Court to approve a reappraisal of benefits, it must determine that the benefits exceed the cost. JFA identified the benefits for each of the following categories:
1.) Reduced flooding of structures
2.) Reduced flooding of agricultural lands
3.) Reduced flooding of transportation facilities
4.) Water storage for municipal supply (1972-1997)
5.) Provided recreation (Lake Snowden 1972-1984)
6.) Reduced soil erosion
7.) Construction of the project facilities
8.) Increased development in the area (1970-1997)
Since, MCCD had the responsibility for all five lakes, until Site #2 (Lake Snowden) was sold to Le-Ax Water District, it was decided by the Board of Appraisers to include the recreational benefits derived from Lake Snowden for only the time that MCCD had control of Lake Snowden, 1972 to 1984. It could be argued that without construction of the initial dam in 1965, there would be no Lake Snowden and therefore no recreational activities or reduced flooding benefits at all, which, if the recreational benefits were included through 2034, would drastically increase the benefit/cost ratio to 4.99:1.
Summing all of the present values of these benefits, the total benefits attributable to the Margaret Creek Watershed, from 1965 to 2034 are $71.9 million. The Board of Appraisers determined that the final benefit should be determined on the local-only costs (without the Federal costs) and include the maintenance costs.
The summary of costs should be based on the same criteria, local–only costs including maintenance, which equaled $21.7 million from 1964 to 2034.
The Benefit/Cost ratio for the costs of the proposed plan and the benefits received is based on the local-costs including maintenance and is determined to be 3.31:1. The proposed assessment rate is based on a 20-year plan, which will run from 2014-2034.
It was the conclusion of the JFA analysis that benefits to the Margaret Creek Watershed, including the Proposed Project Plan, outweigh the costs and that the Proposed Projects provide a worthwhile investment of public funds.