WILMINGTON. The mayor said the state agency is delaying payment to the city of a previously awarded $ 500,000 grant, and that the reason is a long-running dispute over the city’s alleged excessive charges for water from Caesar Creek.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) grant was awarded to fund the construction of Luther Warren’s 3.5-mile extension of Peace Path. According to New Jersey Archives, the News Journal announced the grant award in January 2020.
In a report to the city council on Thursday, Wilmington Mayor John Stanforth said that ODNR director Mary Mertz met with city officials, who at that meeting said the grant funds should be transferred to the city, but she said no.
Instead, the director said that if the city pays the alleged excessive fees, ODNR will provide grant dollars, according to Brian Sheedaker, director of public safety / Stanford and Wilmington.
According to the mayor, the city will now look for other ways to free up grant funds, such as contacting Governor DeVine, recruiting the state representative and state senator who serve Wilmington, and “anyone else” and “pressure her.” … [ODNR director] and let her see the fallacy of her path. “
On Friday, when ODNR contacted about the matter, they sent a copy of the February 2021 letter sent to the city to the News Journal. It states that the agency is “currently unable to provide final approval for your local Clean Ohio Trail Fund project.”
In a letter written by ODNR Assistant Director Stephen A. Gray, the suspended grant is linked to the city’s overdue contractual obligations of more than $ 500,000.
“And that number continues to grow,” Gray wrote.
The ODNR deputy director also stated in the letter: “The City recently clarified through their attorney that no matter how [existing] The federal lawsuit is over and the City has no intention of making any payments due. In these circumstances, given the amounts owed by ODNR, we are unable to provide the grant at this time. ”
The letter also notes that the disputed costs for the operation and maintenance of the Caesar Creek reservoir are assessed by the US Army Corps of Engineers, not ODNR.
To make matters worse, the city has received more than $ 1 million in other grants for the same trail project. Those individual dollars had deadlines for spending and the city felt it had to move the project forward, so most of those individual grant funds were spent on bridges along the trail route, Shidaker said.
The construction of the trail itself is the last part of the project, and “that’s why the $ 500,000 is so important to complete the project,” Shidaker said.
When asked about the next steps, Shidaker said the city is trying to avoid litigation. Instead, the city would like to negotiate and resolve something “without spending additional taxpayer dollars to fight Ohio and ODNR,” he added.
According to Shidaker, ODNR’s refusal to allocate grant funds is in writing.
“We needed to move forward [on the project] – we were going to lose everything – and we couldn’t get away with over a million dollars from another grant for this trail. So we move forward and hope that the state will change its mind and release this $ 500,000, but if they don’t, we will have to figure out what we will do, ”Shidaker said in an interview after the Council meeting.
“So we have [funding] a flaw in this project, ”said the director of the security service.
“They put us in a bad position,” Shidaker said.
The planned Path of Peace expansion will begin at Nelson Road in Wilmington and run west along the former rail corridor to Beachgrove Road / Ogden Road in Adams Township. The trail, designed to provide access along Lytle Creek, will cross the stream at four points along the corridor and provide scenic views.
The long-term plan is to eventually reach the Little Miami Scenic Trail, the third longest paved trail in the United States.
Before the council meeting on Thursday, a ceremonial “mortgage burning” took place in the city hall parking lot to commemorate the last mortgage payment to the city hall. Wilmington City Auditor Mary Kay Vance told the story of the demolition of a number of downtown buildings to make way for a new town hall.
Call Gary Haffenberger at 937-556-5768.…
These Wilmington News Journal photos show the new municipal building emerging from the rubble.
The foreground of Thursday’s burning mortgage, from left to right, depicts current Wilmington Mayor John Stanforth, former City Auditor David Hollingsworth, and City Councilor Nick Evland, who was mayor when the debt-exempt City Hall was built.