Kinsman Lakelands residents get no promises for return to their ‘way of life’

Legal opinion bars use of public funds for causeway fixes

By Ed Runyan


A prepared list of questions Trumbull County Engineer Randy Smith answered Thursday night at an overflow meeting at the Kinsman Township Hall included one asking, “What is the plan to restore our way of life as it was?”

Smith had to admit there was no way he could promise that the life of the 20 or so families in the Lakelands neighborhood will return to the way it was before a July 20 washout of part of the Kinsman Lake Causeway.

The washout, which occurred during a huge rain event, made it nearly impossible for Lakelands residents to get in or out of their neighborhood, though most have since returned to living in their homes by traveling through wooded areas.

Smith said he cannot help them get their lakeside community back by restoring Kinsman Lake. An Aug. 1 legal opinion indicated that government money cannot be used to restore the lake because government money cannot be used to benefit private property.

Smith said his focus now is on getting Lakeview Drive, a public roadway, and the earthen embankment under the roadway restored. That will involve installing a culvert – two 8-foot pipes – to allow the water traveling through the lake to continue downstream. It means the lake will no longer be a lake.

The exact timeline for getting the roadway and earthen embankment restored is not definite because unforseen issues can crop up, but the funding picture is nearly complete, said state Sen. Sean O’Brien of Bazetta, D-32nd. Smith has a check from the Ohio Department of Transportation “in hand” for about $500,000, O’Brien said.

Smith also has a commitment from ODOT for about $500,000 more, so funding to fix the road is not a major obstacle, O’Brien said. As for the lake, Lakelands residents can always work toward restoring it later, he noted.

When a resident asked whether the roadway will be back in operation by winter, Smith said all he can say is that the restoration will be complete 60 days after the contractor gets the go-head to begin.

At that point, the roadway will be usable, even though paving and other work will still be left.

Lakelands residents had to be rescued from their homes July 20 by another route. The flooding also damaged about a dozen other township roads and culverts, as well as some in Greene and Gustavus townships. One bridge on Kinsman Pymatuning Road in Kinsman Township was destroyed and will have to be replaced at a cost of about $800,000.

A few people raised questions about the legal opinion barring the use of public money to repair the parts of the privately owned dam that keeps the lake intact, including one man who said the lake has in recent years become more of a public lake than private.

Some residents wondered if the lake level could be at least about 5 feet deep to help some residents who rely on the water for their homes, but Smith said the plan would involve draining the water to about 2 feet below the current lake bed.

An agricultural landowner expressed concern that the new water course might flood his fields, but Smith expressed confidence that the project had been correctly engineered.

Lakelands resident Marcie Campbell asked how she can be sure that the safety of residents will be a high priority because one resident fell trying to travel in and out of the neighborhood “over the river and through the woods.” Lakelands children will soon have to travel that way to get to school, she said.

O’Brien said these are the types of issues he and the other legislators bring up every time they talk to the Ohio governor’s office and other agencies, so they know “we can’t wait anymore” for financial assistance.

Legislators continue to talk to the office of Gov. Mike DeWine, seeking a declaration of emergency for Kinsman Township, which would allow the community to qualify for federal aid.