Zoar, Ohio, and an Army Corps Levee: ‘TheyBuilt it; They Should Fix it.’


Zoar, Ohio: Private home in historic district 8/6/12

         So said Zoar, Ohio, B&B owner Joe Potelicki of the Army Corps of Engineers levee whose failure threatens to wipe out his village.

          As Hurricane Isaac threatens New Orleans’s dykes and levees, the New York Times spotlights a failing earthwork 1042 miles to the northeast.  It looms over a mid-nineteenth century village lovingly preserved by its residents and the Ohio Historical Society.  (Disclosure: I’m a Life Member of OHS and have had in the past significant family connections to it.)

          The Corps built the levee following the catastrophic 1913 Ohio River system floods.  The levee was to shield the village from the backflow of a flood control dam on the Tuscarawas River, a significant and dangerous Ohio tributary.

           Until the dam and levee’s construction, Zoar had never had flooding problems. Now, the levee requires an estimated $130 million in repairs.

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.


Zoar, Ohio: Zoar Hotel which still welcomes visitors 8/6/12

           So, the logic of our national disinvestment in public works may dictate abandoning the Zoar Village State Memorial which has for a generation been a very successful public-private historic preservation project.

           We visited Zoar a month ago on a glorious Monday afternoon when all seemed right with the world.  We spent two hours poking around its streets.  (The buildings were closed.)  We took the signs about preserving Zoar as normal pleas by the state-starved OHS for public support – which this hugely important organisation desperately needs.  (Give here!) 

         We were wrong.  Generations of hard work are at stake, as are the experiences of generations to come who will only see a grassy space where bulldozers leveled a flourishing historic village.  All to avoid taxes to pay for long-term public benefits.