The New York Times
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Aging Levee Puts Village of Zoar, Ohio, on Endangered List
By RAY RIVERA
ZOAR, Ohio — For years, Joe and Gayle Potelicki searched for a country bed-and-breakfast to buy and run. In 2009 they found it: a former 19th-century schoolhouse tucked in the center of this historic village, which lies along a lazy tributary of the Ohio River.
But not long after their arrival, they learned that the future existence of the village was uncertain.
The problem is a grassy, earthen levee that hems the village, gently sloping along the western edge like a caressing arm. It rises four stories and, according to the Army Corps of Engineers, is among the most dangerous in the extensive system of dams and levees that it operates across the country.
“It’s very precarious,” Mr. Potelicki said. “And it’s the historic section that’s most at risk.”
In the past, the corps would have simply repaired the levee, which it built in 1937 to protect the village from water flowing back from Dover dam, completed that same year, four miles down the Tuscarawas River. But last year, corps officials told the villagers that based on a Congressional mandate put in place after Hurricane Katrina, they would have to examine alternatives to expensive repairs, including razing the village and allowing the area to flood.
The mandate was intended to focus resources on dams and levees that present the greatest risk to human life. The real danger in Zoar is to the buildings, not the people, corps officials say, because there would be ample time to evacuate the town’s 166 residents as backflow from the dam rose. Early corps estimates put the cost of repairing the levee around $130 million. “Barring some real breakthrough in thinking in how they fix the levee, it may well be cheaper to acquire the town and bulldoze it down, rather than fix the levee,” said Jon Elsasser, the president of the Zoar Community Association, voicing the fears of many here.