Some Buckeye Lake waterfront homeowners said they were shocked to receive a letter from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources informing them that parts of their property encroach on state land and must be removed.
The letters, sent by certified mail last week, are arriving as the department works to finish its estimated $110 million dam project by the end of the year, about a year ahead of schedule.
The new dam will replace the nearly 200-year-old earthen dam, which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found was at significant risk of failure.
Some residents who live along the 4.1-mile dam route said they are finding out only now that the project carries ramifications they didn't foresee.
Stephen Schilling said he was left "very concerned and stunned" to receive a letter telling him surveyors for the state determined that "a portion" of his two-story house, including the awning, as well as his concrete steps and fence, must be removed.
"I have lived here my whole life in that house," said Schilling, who lives along the lake's North Bank. "I had it surveyed 40 years ago, and the sidewalk was the designated line."
West Bank resident Greg Brewer said he was "devastated" to receive a letter telling him that parts of his house, including some of his roof, his porch and its steps and a stamped concrete pad were on state property and have to be removed.
"I would have to tear off the front of my home. I'm probably looking at $150,000 to $200,000" in remodeling, said Brewer, who said he paid $650,000 for the house less than a year ago. "I've been sick over it."
The letters told homeowners they have one year to remove structures encroaching on state land. Alternatively, the letters said, they may pay a one-time, $1,000 fee to lease the state property from the state for five years — but then they must remove the encroachment.
Plans call for the new dam top to be clad in a concrete cap and topped with both grass and a paved path. The path will provide access for dam-safety inspectors and recreation for walkers, joggers and bicyclists.
The design also includes removing the old sidewalk in front of the houses and replacing it with a new one about four feet from the state property line. The new sidewalk is under construction.
The department has sent 12 encroachment notification letters so far and anticipates sending more as officials continue to review property lines, spokesman Matt Eiselstein said. Most of the 12 are in the way of the new sidewalk, he said.
"We just finished the final survey recently. We got those letters out as quickly as we could," Eiselstein said.
Rumors are spreading through the area that hundreds of waterfront residents will be told their homes are encroaching on state land. Eiselstein said he didn't want to guess how many more letters will go out, but suggested it will not be nearly as many as rumored.
Brewer is among the waterfront homeowners along the dam route who say they would happily accept an easement or even buy land from the state to have their own front yard.
That is not likely to happen, Eiselstein said.
"They are on state property," he said. "They built onto a dam. We can't grant easements or sell property, for dam-safety reasons. It's important that dam-safety inspectors have access to the whole dam."
Mary Beth Lane is a reporter with The Columbus Dispatch. She can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow her on Twitter @MaryBethLane1.