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City of Wilmington Celebrates Resolution of Caesar Creek Lake Water Supply Dispute

The City of Wilmington announces the successful  conclusion of its years-long battle over improper charges associated with its water  supply at Caesar Creek Lake. At its regular meeting on Thursday night, City Council unanimously approved a landmark amendment to the city’s water supply contract with  the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), marking a significant victory for  Wilmington residents.

The newly-approved amendment brings cost assurance for the city, paving the way for  millions of dollars in savings over the coming years. In addition, the Council endorsed a  settlement with ODNR, which forgives over $1.2 million in contested bills dating back to  2018. The agreement also includes a $120,000 payment to cover past improper billings.

Wilmington Mayor Patrick Haley expressed his gratitude, stating, “This is a huge win for  the city. We are in debt to Attorney General Yost and Governor DeWine for taking on  this fight for us.” 

The dispute stemmed from a 1993 contract between the city and ODNR for water  supply from Caesar Creek Lake. Under a separate agreement between ODNR and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, bills for lake operations and maintenance were passed on  to the city by ODNR. 

In 2017, the city began questioning the skyrocketing bills, citing concerns over fairness  and accountability. The city's inquiries were initially disregarded, as the Corps  maintained the position that the city bore full liability for the contents of the bills. Despite these challenges, city officials remained steadfast in their commitment to rectify  the situation.

Brian Shidaker, former Director of Public Service and Public Safety, reflected on the  struggle, “We were fighting the good fight against a giant, much like David facing Goliath. We understood the importance of rectifying this injustice for the betterment of  our city.” 

A myriad of irregular charges with no apparent connection to water supply came to light  during exhaustive scrutiny of the billing data, revealing questionable expenses that included:

  • Attendance at Cincinnati boat shows 

  • Solar Panel Repairs 

  • Thousands of Unexplained Labor Hours 

  • A Washer and Dryer 

  • Birdseed 

  • Charges Related to Corps facilities other than Caesar Creek Lake

  • Heating and Cooling Equipment at the Visitor’s Center 

  • Travel Expenses 

  • Cedar Chip Bedding for Duck Boxes 

  • Maintenance of Nature Trails and Parking Lots 

  • Pedestrian Bridges 

  • A Bobber the Water Safety Dog Costume 

The Ohio Attorney General's Office initiated legal action in 2020 by suing the federal  government in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. Allegations included breach of contract  due to improper operations and maintenance charges, breach of good faith, and improper interest charges. Judge Carolyn N. Lerner concurred with the state’s  arguments, citing the Corps’ opaque records and arbitrary billing process as violations  of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. This ruling spurred settlement  discussions between the state and federal governments, resulting in an agreement in  August.

Under the settlement, the federal government will pay the state $595,691.30. Additionally, starting in 2024, the state's and thus the city's contribution to operation  and maintenance expenses at Caesar Creek Lake will be a flat rate of $197,500, with  adjustments for inflation in subsequent years.

"The most significant outcome for the city is the certainty of costs,"remarked Public  Works Director Rick Schaffer. "Under the previous system, the 2024 operations and  maintenance bill would have been nearly $600,000, and the 2025 bill would have exceeded $800,000. These escalating expenses would have eventually bankrupted the  water department."



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