MWCD to develop plan for reduction of landowner assessment

May 30, 2013

A plan is being developed that will trigger any future reductions of the annual assessment paid to the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD) by the owners of nearly 500,000 parcels of property.

 

After a recent two-day planning session, members of the MWCD Board of Directors requested that the MWCD staff develop concepts for review and discussion over the next few months that will guide reductions in the assessment based on the amounts of oil and gas royalty revenues that are received by the MWCD from Utica Shale operations. No action is expected to be taken until later this year or next year on the plan, and the earliest the MWCD expects any assessment reduction could be implemented will be for collections in 2015, said John M. Hoopingarner, MWCD executive director/secretary.

 

The MWCD plans to update member judges of the Conservancy Court about this plan during the Court’s annual session scheduled Saturday (June 1) in the Tuscarawas County Courthouse at New Philadelphia, Hoopingarner said. By law, any reduction in the assessment is subject to the review and consideration of the MWCD Board of Directors, but Hoopingarner said it is important to provide information to the Court’s 18 judges, as well.

 

“The Board and staff are committed to fully informing the judges and the public we serve in the 18-county MWCD region about the way the conservancy district is managing these public revenues,” Hoopingarner said. “Board members have made it very clear that there will need to be guidelines developed that will explain in simple terms how any future reduction in the assessment is handled.”

 

Since 2011, the MWCD Board has approved three leases in the Utica Shale region for property owned by the conservancy district, netting the MWCD more than $77 million in signing bonus payments. The MWCD recently received $750,000 as its first royalty payment from the operation of wells from one of the leases.

 

The MWCD Board of Directors also is discussing potential guidelines for use of the Utica Shale oil and gas revenues that would stipulate that all signing bonus funds will be used for capital improvement projects at the MWCD facilities for recreation and public access, and that any plan developed for reductions in the assessment be based on a percentage of the royalties earned by the conservancy district. To date, the conservancy district has utilized a portion of its signing bonus funds to defray debt and make improvements at the MWCD’s recreational and public access facilities, where more than $80 million in improvements, compliance issues and deferred maintenance projects have been identified.

 

“In essence, as the royalties grow over time, a percentage of those royalty funds will determine what any reduction in the assessment will amount to on an annual basis,” Hoopingarner said. “Naturally, then, as royalties may increase in upcoming years, the amount of reductions would increase as well based on the plan that will be developed. The appropriate amount of the royalties then would be used to cover the difference between the amount collected and the reduction in the assessment to ensure that critical projects at the dams and reservoirs continue without interruption.”

 

Specific proposals will be presented to members of the MWCD Board at upcoming meetings for review and discussion, he said.

 

The MWCD collects about $11 million annually from the owners of nearly 500,000 parcels of property in the conservancy district’s 18-county region. Collected through landowners’ county property tax statements, the funds legally must be used to pay for projects and programs that protect the operation of the system of 16 dams and reservoirs that were constructed nearly 80 years ago for flood reduction and water conservation in the Muskingum River Watershed. Nearly 95 percent of all property owners subject to the assessment pay the minimum annual amount of $12 per year.

 

The MWCD serves as the federally required local cost-share sponsor for the work that has been identified at several of the system’s dams owned and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Projects are under way at both Dover and Bolivar dams in northern Tuscarawas County, the entire project plan at the dams is projected to cost more than $600 million and the MWCD share is estimated to be up to $137 million.

 

In addition, the MWCD has spent assessment funds on shoreline stabilization projects at the MWCD lakes, planning for dredging of the lakes that will begin as early as next year, grant funding for area communities for projects that encourage flood reduction and water quality improvements and other programs that protect the benefits of flood reduction and water conservation that were created for property owners with the construction of the dams and reservoirs. Assessment revenues by law cannot be used to pay for projects that enhance or improve the MWCD’s recreational programs and facilities, and all expenditures must be covered by guidelines stipulated in the Amendment to the Official Plan of the MWCD that was approved in 2005 by the Conservancy Court and the Board of Directors.

 

The MWCD collects assessments from owners of property in all or portions of the following counties: Ashland, Belmont, Carroll, Coshocton, Guernsey, Harrison, Holmes, Knox, Licking, Morgan, Muskingum, Noble, Richland, Stark, Summit, Tuscarawas, Washington and Wayne.

 

The MWCD has managed oil and gas leases on its properties for its entire 80-year history as a part of its overall natural resources stewardship program. Oil and gas leases developed by the conservancy district have served as a model for other owners of public property considering strategies for management of leases that provide for revenues to enhance public benefit and services while ensuring the highest level of environmental protections.

 

The MWCD, a political subdivision of the state, was organized in 1933 to develop and implement a plan to reduce flooding and conserve water for beneficial public uses in the Muskingum River Watershed, the largest wholly contained watershed in Ohio. Since their construction, the 16 reservoirs and dams in the MWCD region have been credited for saving more than $10 billion worth of potential property damage from flooding, according to the federal government, as well as providing popular recreational opportunities that bolster the region’s economy. A significant portion of the reservoirs are managed by the MWCD and the dams are managed for flood-risk management by the federal U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).

 

For more information about the MWCD, visit www.mwcd.org and follow the MWCD on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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