Aaron Smith is heading the Army Corps of Engineer’s efforts to find a solution to a long-standing problem in northern Tuscarawas County: The Zoar levee, built as a New Deal project in the 1930s, is seeping water, so much so that it has earned the corps’ worst designation: “urgent and compelling.”
But picking a solution rests with a post-Katrina process that will take years to grade a range of options against host of measures.
History vs. ???
On the options side: Do nothing. Buy and flood the village. Move the village. Fix, modify or replace the levee.
On the measures side: community, economy, environment, even answering the question: Will it stir up toxic chemicals? And, Smith says, of course, a big factor is history.
“Zoar levee was actually formulated to protect the village based on its historical significance. And what’s become clear to us since we started the study is the historical significance of Zoar is still of utmost concern not only to the villagers, but it seems to be a regional heritage asset, but also nationally significant. We’ve got several stakeholders across the nation who are concerned with the village.”
Jennifer Sandy is one of them. She attended Thursday night’s informational meeting at Tuscarawas Valley High School. But she’s from Chicago and is representing the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It has named Zoar one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.
“I think anyone who visits Zoar, even just for five minutes, can appreciate the beauty of the community and the history and heritage and culture of the community. It has wonderful stories to tell, (ones) that talk about the American experience. They talk about people coming over here as immigrants and building a life for themselves and building a community.”
Zoar was settled by German separatists in 1817, and kept going as a communal society for better than 70 years. Andy Sewell has cataloged every building for the Army Corps study, from the tin shop to the bakery to the outbuilding foundation for House No. 15.
“The biggest surprise is how much is still here. In a way, it’s comparable to Colonial Williamsburg in that you go there and you get a sense of the time because all the buildings are nicely preserved. But the interesting thing here is that most of these buildings are privately owned. The owners have taken their own funds and time and effort to make sure everything looks very much like it used to.”
And somehow, Sewell says, gas stations and convenience stores have never been part of its landscape.
All sides gather information
And though they came to the meeting with maps, DVDs, power points and think books filled with information about Zoar, project overseer Smith told the roughly 30 people attending Thursday night's meeting that the purpose was to gather even more information – and not just about history.
“For example, someone tonight gave us a photograph of a roosting bald eagle right next to our study area -- that we had no idea existed. That’s great information, helps us a lot.”
Cost will come into play
To most of those at the meeting, the idea of moving the village is unthinkable. It’s not unthinkable to Dave Bennett, a geologist who grew up in the area. But without knowing costs, he wants the Army Corps focus on the levee.
“I do not know off the top of my head, nor do I have the ability to figure out how much that’s going to cost. It won’t be cheap, but given the historic value of the community and the history value to the state of Ohio, I think it is very important that the town or village of Zoar be preserved.
The Army Corps is taking comments through March 29th. It plans meetings this summer, then a series of review, and it hopes to settle on an option by the end of 2015.
The e-mail address for comments on the Zoar levee is email@example.com. The phone number is (304) 399-5730.