Property owners from Akron to the Ohio River could see a reduction in the annual assessment paid to the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District starting next year.
The reason: The district is flush with cash from Utica Shale leases and royalties paid on natural gas and liquids produced from wells on district-owned land.
Reducing the assessment — about $12 a year for most landowners — will be recommended Friday when the district’s five-member governing board meets at 9 a.m. in New Philadelphia.
“We believe it is not only prudent, but a responsibility of the conservancy district to return some of the benefits the oil and gas leases have generated for the MWCD to the property owners in the form of a reduction in their annual assessments,” said John M. Hoopingarner, the district’s executive director/secretary.
Last year, the board directed staff to review the annual assessment paid by the owners of nearly 500,000 parcels in the 18 counties that drain into the Tuscarawas and Muskingum rivers. Next year is the earliest the fee could be reduced.
The assessment was first levied in 2009 amid protests from some vocal landowners. It covers landowners in Summit, Stark, Wayne and 15 other counties. The district collects about $11 million a year from the assessment to ensure the safety of 14 dams and reservoirs in eastern Ohio. The district’s board must review and approve the assessment annually.
Any action to reduce the assessment would not eliminate projects underway or planned with assessment funds because the agency would use revenue from oil and gas leases to supplement current collection levels, the agency said.
The proposed reduction drew support from four state legislators whom the district briefed: state Sen. Troy Balderson, R-Zaneville; state Sen. Lou Gentile, D-Steubenville; state Rep. Al Landis, R-Dover; and state Rep. David Hall, R-Millersburg.
To date, the district has earned $77.8 million in signing bonuses for drilling leases and about $3 million in royalty revenue.
The district is also considering a new lease for drilling with Colorado-based Antero Resources on 6,700 acres at Piedmont Lake in Belmont, Harrison and Guernsey counties.
Earlier, the district agreed to leases for property it owns at three other lake areas: Clendening Lake in Harrison County in 2011, Leesville Lake in Carroll County in 2012 and Seneca Lake in Guernsey and Noble counties in 2013.
Those funds have been used to pay down district debt, improve public access and plan a $160 million upgrade to recreational facilities.
The watershed district owns 54,000 acres of land.
Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or firstname.lastname@example.org.