Lawmakers seek help for businesses near Ohio lake lowered because of concern about old dam

Lawmakers are trying to get economic help for business owners around Buckeye Lake who worry revenue will decrease significantly while the water is lowered and a deteriorated dam is replaced.

After a report warned the nearly 180-year-old earthen dam was at risk of failing, state officials are keeping the lake low, limiting boating and water activities. Some locals say they've already seen business decrease, and they fear things could get worse as the project is expected to take several years.

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Lawmakers say they hear those concerns. State Sen. Jay Hottinger, a Republican whose district includes part of the Buckeye Lake region, has asked Gov. John Kasich to help get the area considered for an economic disaster declaration that could pave the way for additional assistance opportunities, such as loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

"We're on a fishing expedition to try to find out what all sort of options are available to businesses and entities that are already being negatively impacted or we know that will be negatively impacted," he said. "We want to exhaust the options, put them all on the table" for locals who choose to pursue such help.

A spokesman for Kasich confirmed the request was received and said his office is sympathetic to the economic challenges at Buckeye Lake.

"The recommendation by the federal government to drain the lake, or the potential for the dam to fail, are true economic disasters that we are trying to avoid," spokesman Rob Nichols said in an email.

The issue also popped up in the Senate's version of the state budget, which isn't finalized, with a provision to create a $1 million revolving loan program to help businesses hurt when lake areas are in economic distress.

Meanwhile, Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman was hosting an informational seminar Friday in Thornville, on the lake's southern edge, to connect small business owners with representatives of federal agencies that might offer help. Those include the SBA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.