Ohio's History Of Silence On Buckeye Lake


The lake is currently drained below Winter water levels - forcing tourist businesses to prepare to shut their doors for good. The state says Buckeye Lake is an immediate flooding danger. But 10 Investigates uncovers how those same state officials had been silent about the dangers for years.

Buckeye Lake residents went to today's meeting wanting answers. State park officials say they want to be transparent and communicate with residents. But 10 Investigates uncovered park officials were nearly silent for years about what they already knew about problems at Buckeye Lake.

Ed Fisher's boats, and many others on Buckeye Lake, are stuck in the mud. State parks officials say it could take five years for their plan to work on the dam forming Buckeye Lake. Now Fisher's Marina - in his family since 1912, may have no choice but to sell to the state.

"To go through five years of not having a lake, and our business, we're ready to sell it to them if they're willing to buy it," said Fisher.

All this has happened since March - when The Army Corps of Engineers report came out recommending complete drainage of Buckeye Lake. But in 2010, a similar report by state parks officials, ODNR, recommended not building any structures on the dam and getting rid of all trees.  Instead of acting in 2010, lakeside homeowners say state officials did nothing.

Steve Schilling had his dock on the lake in 2010, when the state report recommended its removal. However, the state never notified him about removing the dock until this year.

"Nobody along here has received one and as far as seeing an ODNR agent, in 150 years I don't think one has walked by until now and you've got five of them every day walking by.  Easter Sunday they were standing out here,"  Schilling said.

10 Investigates asked for all emails and notices ODNR sent to homeowners and mayors of villages on Buckeye Lake. ODNR has not yet provided any emails or notices sent to homeowners.

For a five year period between 2010 and 2015, ODNR says they only sent 34 emails to village mayors.

The only one 10 Investigates found about potential flooding danger on Buckeye lake wasn't even sent by state officials. It was sent by Karen Cookston. Financial Planner by day, Cookston volunteers as Buckeye Lake Village Planning Chair.

Cookston said she was surprised to learn in 2013 that she was appointed Buckeye Lake Village's Flood Plain Administrator.

When asked what her training was, Cookston replied "Zero. Other than self read."

Cookston said she kept trying to resign as flood plain administrator, but couldn't reach anybody for days.

"With all of those responsibilities, if you don't meet FEMAs rules and regulations in association to the flood plain, they will cancel the government insurance," explained Cookston.

Licking County says a third party consultant mistakenly identified Cookston as the critical flood plain administrator and a trained expert took over the position. The mistake was corrected, but Cookston says village officials never received communications from the state about flooding fears on Buckeye Lake.

"You would have thought, sometime during that period they might have said something about that. But in that time, none of us were aware of anything that was going to be unveiled," Cookston said.

State parks director Jim Zehringer did not take questions from Buckeye Lake residents at today's meeting.

He told residents any questions about state officials past actions concerning Buckeye Lake were - in his words - "redundant questions."