FRANKLIN TWP, Beaver County — A group tasked with raising $10 million to fix the Hereford Manor Lakes property has ceased fundraising operations and is now looking to state officials for support.
John Ball, president of the Hereford Manor Lake Conservancy group, said there are still plenty of proposals on the table that would help pay for the project to refill the drained lakes.
But his group just doesn’t have the manpower or time to raise the substantial sum needed for the lakes to be restored.
”We don’t even imagine we could raise the $10 million estimated to build the dam,” he said. “We’re not actively trying to seek that much funding.”
Ball said the group is now turning to advocates like state Rep. Jaret Gibbons, who several months ago introduced a bill that would divert 5 percent of all of revenues gained from gas drilling on state-owned land to dam reconstruction projects across the state.
Gibbons, D-10th, said his bill is stuck in a legislative committee, and that he couldn’t offer a timeline on when it might move forward.
The state representative said people from across the region and even in Ohio have contacted him about the lakes closing, and that he’s doing everything he can to bring attention to the project.
Gibbons also said he’s aware that people are looking to him to spearhead the effort to bring back the lakes.
“We need to be realistic that fundraising and private donations are not going to be enough to do this,” he said. “The state has a responsibility to invest in these outdoor facilities, and we have to have faith that the state will step up.”
While some might scoff at the prospect of the state government stepping in to save the property, Gibbons isn’t so skeptical.
The Legislature can expect “hundreds of millions” of dollars coming into its coffers in the next several years as a result of gas drilling operations on state-owned land.
It’s not an unreasonable proposal, he said, to divert a small portion of that revenue to the Hereford Manor Lakes property.
“We certainly don’t want to take on any new taxes or new debt, so we have to look at existing funds,” Gibbons said. “If this project is going to happen, it has to happen like this.”
The two lakes, which are on more than 400 acres outside Zelienople, were drained because of dangers posed by two structurally deficient dams that the state’s Department of Environmental Protection deemed as “high hazards.”
The property is just one of about a dozen across the state listed as “high hazards,” meaning that the cash-strapped Fish and Boat Commission must rely on alternative sources of funding to fix them.
Ball said he hasn’t abandoned hope the lakes will someday return, even if that return isn’t imminent.
“I’d like to hope it would happen in five years, but nothing tells me that it will,” he said. “It’s just a hope.”