U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers, and U.S. Rep. Pat Tiberi issued a letter addressed to U.S. Small Business Administration Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet, urging a federal disaster declaration for Fairfield, Licking and Perry counties. "We believe federal assistance is necessary to help the Ohioans in these counties," the lawmakers wrote. "We fully support Gov. Kasich's request for a federal disaster declaration, and urge your office to provide full and fair consideration to this disaster declaration request." The letter follows a similar letter sent Monday to SBA Director Frank Skaggs by Gov. Kasich. "By keeping this already shallow lake at an even lower water level, recreational opportunities have diminished dramatically and have posed an immediate and potentially long-term financial hardship for area businesses," Gov. Kasich wrote.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers classified the dam as being in imminent danger of catastrophic failure. In response, officials lowered the lake's water level on April 20 to alleviate pressure on the dam. Since then, the lake's water level has remained close to 888.75 feet above sea level - below its summer average in recent years of 891.75 feet above sea level. The water level drop has crippled the tourism economy and local businesses, lawmakers said. "While plans are in place to construct a new dam, the lower lake level has dramatically decreased tourism activity in the area, costing small businesses throughout the Buckeye Lake region," the federal lawmakers wrote. "SBA disaster resources would provide much-needed relief in the form of low-interest loans that can be used to pay fixed debts, make payroll, and take care of other bills during the dam construction process."
Supplementary material included with Gov. Kasich's letter spell out the extent of the damage, showing that the lake has sustained:
- A 90% decrease in boater activity - translating to a loss of an estimated 200,000 visitors.
- A nearly 100% drop in the number of visitors using day-use facilities including beaches, picnic areas and playgrounds.
- An 80% decline in land-based fishing
- A 99% drop in special activity permits
- The cancellation of all of the approximately 80 to 100 fishing tournaments that take place on the lake each year
A survey by the Development Services Agency found that 12 businesses have lost between 33% and 100% of their revenue between April 20 and July 10 compared to that same time period last year. Among the most severe: A 100% drop in revenue - from $5,000 to $0 - for Patrick and Lindsey Brighton; a 96% drop - from $21,564 to $850 this year - for the Greater Buckeye Lake Historical Society; an 89% drop - from $30,700 last year to $3,500 this year - for the Buckeye Lake Barge.