Commissioners warned of potential liability in efforts to save Coalburg Dam

WARREN — A Trumbull County attorney warned commissioners to tread lightly when making future decisions in helping community organizations in their efforts to prevent the privately-owned Coalburg Lake Dam from being removed, because if a future catastrophic event were to happen, any agency could be held partially financially responsible because of their involvement in preventing the dam from being removed.

“There has been a rosy picture of the lake dam painted,” attorney Bill Danso told the commissioners during Wednesday’s meeting. “There’s some real risk and real liability that goes along with the dam.”

Danso works with the Trumbull County prosecutor’s office.

The prosecutor outlined his concerns during the public comment period of the commissioners’ weekly meeting. Danso, on Tuesday, participated in a video conference sponsored by Hubbard Township Trustee Jason Tedrow; an attorney representing Coalburg Land Partners LLC, which owns the property on which the dam is located; Ohio Department of Natural Resources; the Ohio Attorney General’s office; Commissioner Niki Frenchko and others.

Tedrow requested the state give those opposed to the removal of the dam up to a year to come up with strategies and the funds that will be required to save the dam.

“They (ODNR and AG’s office representatives) want up to two weeks to consider my proposal,” Tedrow said.

He did not attend Wednesday’s commissioners’ meeting.

Danso told the commissioners ODNR considers Coalburg a Class I dam.

“There are serious dangers to life and to property if it breaches,” Danso said. “It is in danger of breaching.”

He noted the dam’s owners were previously ordered by the court to have it removed this summer.

“They must fix the dam, modify the dam or breach the dam,” he said.

While not attempting to discourage the commissioners from working with residents attempting to save the dam, Danso warned it could cost millions of dollars.

“Work can be very expensive,” Danso said.

The Coalburg Dam is more than 100 years old.

“This is a very delicate situation,” Danso said. “The dam is in very poor condition.”

During Tuesday’s meeting, ODNR provided examples of other communities with similar-sized dams that needed concrete and stone repair / replacement and the earthen embankment surrounding them that had fallen trees and compromised dirt from animals burrowing in them, which cause the dams to leak, according to Danso.

The Coalburg Dam owners have already lowered the lake behind it, and if given another year, likely would have to lower it again.

While noting there is a Federal Emergency Management Agency program that may be available to help in this situation, Danso said acquisition of the grant is not guaranteed. Also, the FEMA grant usually has a 65-35 split in which the federal government would provide 65% of the cost and the local entity would be responsible for providing 35%.

“A 35% match may not seem a lot, but it can be when costs are $10 million or $50 million or greater,” Danso noted.

Frenchko, who participated in Tuesday’s meeting, said these discussions should have begun a year ago. She noted Trustee Rick Hernandez told the township trustees there were no alternative funding sources that could be used to help provide an alternative to removing the dam.

“We’ve now passed the 11th hour (to getting something done),” Frenchko said Wednesday. “Time is of the essence.”

She is less concerned about the county’s financial liability if it assists a local nonprofit find alternatives.

“It would be the entity that takes the lead that could be liable,” she said. “I’m not encouraging the county to take the lead.”

Frenchko, however, said she would encourage the state to give those looking for ways to save the dam the one-year extension.

“If they can preserve a resource that helps the entire community,” she said. “It will affect property values. It can provide recreational opportunities for residents, sports clubs and people coming from outside of the area.”

“I like the fact that a community group is involved,” Frenchko said.

She questioned whether in kind work that the dam’s owners and others have already done would be considered as part of the local involvement support after the cost of preserving the dam is determined.

Have an interesting story? Contact Raymond Smith by email at rsmith@tribtoday.com.


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