Ohio Lakefront Dam Problems: Affecting Buyers and Sellers

If  anyone has been following the Columbus news for the past year or so they have more than likely seen reports that the dam for Buckeye Lake, a public lake just 45 minutes outside of Columbus, was at risk of catastrophic failure. We here at Lakefront Living Realty even wrote a blog earlier this season reporting on the dam and its remediation process. However, Buckeye Lake isn’t the only lake in Ohio that’s had a dam problem in the past few years. A few others would include Lake of the Four Seasons in Hide-a-way-Hills and Lake White.

How do these affect lakefront residents?

Water level is the major reason; as soon as a major problem is detected ODNR will act immediately to lower the water level. The reason being that all dams have a classification level determining how much damage a dam break would cause, and in the case for all three of these lakes they are a Class 1: meaning potential loss of life. So the water level gets reduced, GREATLY, and that has resulted in many homes at Buckeye Lake, not on the main water, without enough water under their boat houses to set their watercraft into the water. And with lower lvels, at an already not very deep lake, boating becomes restricted, so there goes your boating for the season, and in many cases for several seasons. Buckeye Lake, which was found to need major repair in 2014, just finished Phase 1 of the dam repair and are estimated to finish construction in 2019, and have water levels raised as early as Summer 2016. That is a long period of time that homeowners have had to go without an unhindered boating season. Now in the case of Lake of the Four Seasons the dam will be completely repaired this year (2016) so resident’s time without power boating privileges will be short. However, anytime water is lowered at a lake, boating suffers, and one of the main reasons why a buyer just bought a lake home will be null and void for at least a year, maybe two or three.

With a reduced water level not only does boating go away but this can often lead to vegetation growth. Often times in areas that were once filled with water go dry, and you now have a bed of weeds that you will have to manage. Reduced water level can also lead to enhanced bug and insect growth. With lack of movement on the water, a lot of areas can now become stagnant and a hotbed/ breeding ground for mosquitoes. And not to mention that once this water level is low enough, your once coveted view can be taken away depending on where your house sits. For instance if you bought in a cove, that cove may now be low or void of water, taking away your view. And of course don’t forget the smell: greatly reduced water levels, especially in a lake where algae problems exist, can lead to the area having a bad odor.

Property values also could be affected. This issue may seem more relevant to sellers, but in truth if you are a buyer you don’t want to pay full price for a property and then the housing market tank shortly after, causing you to take a huge loss on your real estate investment. If you then try and sell your property down the road, it would be hard to sell a home with any or all the above mentioned problems.

And the last reason would be money. In the case of state parks such as Buckeye and Lake White, these projects will be paid through the state either through taxes and levies, or possibly federal grants or reserves that the state had, which at the end of the day comes mostly from the pocket of taxpayers in the form of nickels and dimes. For private lake communities such as Hide-a-way-Hills however, the money has to come from the association and its members, there were no grants available. And in that case a special assessment had to be passed, costing members approximately 4k out of pocket apiece. So in this case a one-time payment was due from each member in order to get the dam repaired and the lake ready for boating season again. 4k sounds like a lot but the thing to remember is that the Lake of the Four Seasons repair cost was bid at approx. 2.8 Million dollars, while the Lake White project was bid at approx. 31.7 Million and Buckey lake over 100 Million, if a private lake dam repair ever cost that much its members would be paying quite a bit more and the association would have to look at taking out loans, raising member fees and or passing more or higher special assessments all in order to pay for the work. And most of the time those assessments go with the property, meaning that if the seller hasn’t paid it the buyer may have to at the time of closing.

Should buyers be concerned?

The truth is that almost all lakes in Ohio were developed and had dams built during a period of time when quality of materials and building standards were not as high as they are now. Lake communities constantly have to keep an eye out for not only dam problems, but also spillway repairs needed (a blog on spillways will be coming soon). As a buyer you can’t really escape the chance of buying at a lake that will have a dam issue. However, buying a property that just got done fixing the dam will give you a lake now several years away from doing another major repair. But Buyer’s should be careful and make sure to be aware of any known problems at that specific lake’s dam or any major repairs scheduled that could impact your lakefront lifestyle, because it’s not always noticeable whether that lake has issues or not. Consult with your lakefront expert about which lakes just finished construction, which ones are at risk to have a major issue, which ones are currently undergoing dam remediation and what it may cost you in terms of boating privileges, aesthetic value and money.


Written by – Justin Shelton, Lakefront Consultant “The Lake Team”


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