I-Team investigation: over budget, under water - 13abc.com Toledo (OH) News, Weather and Sports

I-Team investigation: over budget, under water

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FREMONT, Ohio -

Over budget, wrapped up in court, and it might not even work.  The 13abc I-Team has uncovered just such a project right here in Northwest Ohio. 

It's a project all too familiar to the people of Fremont.  It's the city's reservoir project.  Around Fremont some call it the ‘million dollar hole in the ground.'

With the Ballville dam in disrepair, and the source of Fremont water, a decision needed to be made.  The solution was a reservoir.  It's located off Buckland Avenue in Fremont.  Location is the first problem.  

"I think so, ill conceived, shouldn't have been put there," said Fremont Mayor Jim Ellis.

Location is a problem because of poor soil and rock in the area.  The 13abc I-Team has discovered the city was warned about the problems.

That's seen in a letter from the USDA to then Mayor Terry Overmeyer in 2000.  That letter is questioning any reservoir site in Ballville Township saying ‘The presence of sandy soils and shallow bedrock would be very difficult and expensive to overcome when constructing a reservoir'

The 13abc I-Team looked for former Mayor Overmyer to find out why the project went on despite the warnings and the costs.  We even knocked on his door but got no response.

"They had this get'er done, damn the torpedos, full steam ahead.  They just ignored the facts because they couldn't admit they made a mistake," said Fremont resident Joe Michels.

Michels has studied this project in detail.  He's shocked the project has gotten as far as it has with all the warning signs.  The 13abc I-team has uncovered this e-mail from the Ohio Department of Natural Resource in 2008.

‘We still have questions about the amount of clay available and the geology of the area.' The letter says, ‘We think that it is very presumptuous to assume that a thick enough clay layer is continuous through out the footprint of the reservoir. Possible yes, probably no.' 

"More problems, more money needed.  Instead of just stopping and saying let's just back this up, this is ridiculous," said Fremont resident Anne Warner.

Warner's property is next door to the reservoir project.  She's watched the on-going construction  day and now night.

"We spent this much money but we've got to make this right and this is never going to be right," said Warner.   

Not only is she worried about the reservoir and the water it's supposed to hold but what about the cost. 

"It's just such a shame, makes me sick," said Warner.   

The 13abc I-Team has been sorting through the budget.  The original budgeted amount was about $12 million then it moved to $17 million.  Mayor Ellis now says they've spent $31 million so far but another $5.5 is needed to complete it. 

"It's a little late to make it a cost effective project," said Ellis.   

The 13abc I-team also discovered 2 lawsuits that could push the project even further over budget. 

The suits come from contractors, one was fired from the project, the other saying the work cost much more than budgeted because of the ground conditions.  Those two combined could mean about $18 million more. 

"If we get judgments against us, in the lawsuits, we have to borrow the money to pay those lawsuits.  We don't have to use to pay that money," said Ellis.

So who does pay for all this mess?  Unfortunately it's the water customers of Fremont.  Already a 10% increase has been proposed for residents, 6% on businesses.

"I'm the one that has to go back now to ask people to pay more money when they're really upset, for water rates, when they're really upset about how the project has been handled," said Ellis. 

Mayor Ellis says he's getting a sense from residents that they just want this project over with and see if it works. 

"Will the reservoir be a long term asset for the community?  That's the issue we were looking at," said Ellis.  

When asked if it would work Ellis added:  "I hope so, I hope so."   

"Best thing we can do is take a loss and fill it in.  Be great for skateboarders," said Warner. 

Mayor Ellis says one of the biggest reasons why the project continued was because of the grant money, loans, even stimulus money that would have to be paid back if the project didn't happen.

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