Mary Lou Reder holds up a sign soliciting signatures for a petition to save Coalburg Lake. Also with her are Patti Mikula, left, and Darla Bizub.

Mary Lou Reder holds up a sign soliciting signatures for a petition to save Coalburg Lake. Also with her are Patti Mikula, left, and Darla Bizub.

A small coalition of local residents and officials – most from Hubbard Township – have started an effort to save Coalburg Lake in Hubbard and Brookfield townships and open the property for public use.

The hurdles to making that goal a reality are large as the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has obtained a court consent order that the property’s owner, Coalburg Land Partners LLC of Humble, Texas, breach the dam because of the dam’s condition, which ODNR considers to be poor.

However, ODNR is aware of the local effort and “willing to discuss the feasibility” of fixing the dam “provided the public safety is not compromised,” said ODNR spokesman Andy Chow.

Mary Lou Reder, who lives in Hubbard Township next to the lake and has kayaked and fished on the lake and walked its banks, said her involvement in trying to save the lake is only months’ old, since she became aware that the dam was to be breached. She and a neighbor, Patti Mikula, said people who live by the dam have been surprised to learn about the breach order when they were made aware of it.

Reder has held three drives – including one Feb. 10 in Brookfield Center – to collect signatures on a petition asking to halt the breach and allow time to develop the property into a park. Reder said she has collected more than 1,000 signatures and plans to send the petitions to state Sen. Sandra O’Brien and ask her to lobby the state Attorney General’s Office, which represented ODNR in the court case against Coalburg Land Partners, on behalf of local residents.

Hubbard Township Trustee Jason Tedrow, working with sponsors the Kilar Foundation and Hubbard Youth Coalition, has applied to the Trumbull County commissioners for $300,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds to conduct a study to determine what it would take to fix the dam. Then, Federal Emergency Management Agency money could be sought to fix the dam, he said.

Chow cautioned that the cost to repair the dam could be “several million dollars, and the FEMA grant program for dams requires a local governmental sponsor with a 35-percent match. That grant program has also recently become more competitive in Ohio. More dam owners are competing for the limited, available funds than ever before.”

Tedrow said Coalburg Land Partners has agreed to cooperate in the study and he has been talking to non-profit corporations and public entities about buying the property.

“We have identified a potential purchaser for down the road,” he said.

County Commissioner Denny Malloy said he does not like a provision in a letter from Coalburg Land Partners that states the owner reserves the right to do what it wants with the property after the dam is fixed.

“So, we, technically, we come in, fix the dam, he puts a $1 million house on it with a lake view and tells everybody to get the hell off of here, thanks for the dam repair and we’re out,” Malloy said Feb. 14.

“I would feel more comfortable if the dam was already in a public entity’s hands somehow, that we know it’s gonna be utilized the way we want it and not a private individual’s property,” he said.

The problem with that, Tedrow said, is no one is willing to buy the property with the dam in its present condition. Trumbull County Metroparks had been awarded a state grant to buy the Coalburg Lake property in 2019, but backed out of the deal because of liability over the dam.

Tedrow said he understands Malloy’s concerns but “I doubt that that’s gonna occur.” He noted Coalburg Land Partners was once willing to sell the property; is “on board” with selling it to a nonprofit or public entity; has agreed to contribute the engineering it already has had performed to the study; and is willing to contribute the money it would have spent on breaching the dam to the project.

“I’ve told them they can do this with us or without us,” Tedrow said of Coalburg Land Partners. “They’ve chosen to work with us.”

Meanwhile, Coalburg Land Partners still is required under the consent order to take “interim risk reduction measures” to lessen the chance of the dam’s collapse, Chow said. The owner has removed trees and brush that grew on the dam, but has not lowered the lake level by six feet, as is required in the consent order.

“The AG’s Office immediately communicated this violation of the consent judgment entry to counsel for the dam’s owner, and the owner is working to bring the level back down,” Chow said.

Former Brookfield Trustee Gary Lees had been Brookfield’s point man in discussions about Coalburg Lake, but he left office in Dec. 2021.

Brookfield Trustee Shannon Devitz said Feb. 10 that she had never been to Coalburg Lake, but supports the effort to save it.

“I think it’s an opportunity to have something good going on around here,” she said. “It will give our residents another spot to go to and enjoy.”

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