- Associated Press - Friday, May 1, 2015

BUCKEYE LAKE, Ohio (AP) - The director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources indicates construction on a new dam could start in summer 2016 as the state tries to expedite work at Buckeye Lake, where the existing embankment has deteriorated.

Director Jim Zehringer outlined that accelerated timeline Thursday in a meeting with members of the Ohio House Buckeye Lake Caucus. He said the engineering and design contractor could be picked this summer, and design could be finished by next spring.

“We’re going to get it done as quickly as possible,” Zehringer said, according to The (Newark) Advocate.

For now, officials are keeping the water low to decrease the risk of the dam failing, though the level could rise if the area gets prolonged rains.

They’re also dredging the lake to create paths for boaters to use, which has led to a new hurdle: The department is running out of places to put the material dredged from the lake bottom, Zehringer said.

Meanwhile, lawmakers and locals continue to raise concerns about residents’ safety, their property and the likelihood of a breach.

Zehringer told them he doesn’t think the dam is likely to fail if the water remains low, though he indicated he’s wary, The Columbus Dispatch reported.

“I drove around Buckeye Lake yesterday, and I would not be living there, I’ve got to be honest with you,” Zehringer said.

A report earlier this year by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers traced the dam’s unusual problems to 1895, when the state sold parts of the embankment for private use. About 370 homes have been built into it, along with docks, patios, flower beds and other modifications that weaken the structure.

After receiving that report, the state lowered the lake’s water level with such little notice that some area residents’ boats have been stranded on lifts, docks or mud, Republican state Sen. Tim Schaffer of nearby Lancaster told Zehringer.

Schaffer says they’re “afraid and upset that their investments are going to disintegrate before their eyes,” the Dispatch reported.

Zehringer told him the state will try to help them once shallower areas dry, but he didn’t make any specific promises.

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