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The Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District announced April 20 it had come to terms on a multi-million-dollar deal with Chesapeake Energy for mineral rights at its property around Leesville Lake.

For the ability to drill under those 3,700 acres, the district is receiving $21.5 million. Combined with last summer's $15.6 million deal with Gulfport Energy, another Oklahoma City-based energy firm, the district has brought in more than $37 million, or enough to run the entire district for almost two years, at 2010 expense levels.

During the meeting, district executive director John Hoopingarner said it is too early to tell how oil and gas leasing or fracking water sales will influence how they budget.

North central Ohio's Charles Mill Reservoir and Pleasant Hill Lake are part of the district.

Mansfield-area resident Phil Gerwig urged the district to reduce the maintenance assessment.

That levy was established in 2009 and raised $9.6 million in 2010, according to the most recent annual report. Most property owners are charged $12 annually as a line item on their property tax bills, but some landowners with parking lots or buildings with large roofs pay up to $132 per acre.

"This subject has not gone without discussion by this board of directors and the staff of the conservation district," he said of reducing the assessment.

There are other entities selling public water.

A representative from Cadiz, which gets its water from Tappan Lake, a district reservoir, was at the meeting to ask the district to consider selling them more water. No action was taken at Friday's meeting.

Cadiz is charged 10 cents per 1,000 gallons; they then sell water to drillers at 100 times that price. The Columbus Dispatch reported this month that Cadiz made $110,000 by selling what was once district water to Chesapeake Energy for fracking a well in Harrison County.

The village pledges to use profits from the sale of water to replace its sewage treatment system, which is operating below U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards.

Hoopingarner argues helping Cadiz make those upgrades fits in with the district's mission to improve water systems within its boundaries.

But it raises a significant question: Should the district expand its agreement with Cadiz for Cadiz's benefit, or sell the water itself and raise money to benefit the entire district benefit?

"If (the proposal) were just sell it to them without any agreement or assurances as how that money is spent, it would be a different story," Hoopingarner said.

razimmer@centralohio.com
740-328-8830
Twitter at @RussZimmer

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