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Marysville building 1.2 billion gallon reservoir to accomodate growth

The city of Marysville has a water problem; it does not have enough to keep up with its growth. Since former governor James Rhodes courted Honda into building their first U.S. manufacturing facility in southern Union County, the area has seen an economic transformation. Now city officials are ready to build a new reservoir that has a very unique feature.

Taking state route 33 west out of Dublin used to be a fairly boring drive. There were always the usual gas station exits and even a few country stores, but no real commercial presence until Bellefontaine. Even in Marysville proper, the only corporate player was Walmart, who built a store on the city's east side in the early 1990s. Honda, Scotts Lawn and Garden, Goodyear, and Nestles all built major facilities in the area more than 20 years ago, but Marysville always looked and felt like a small town. Until about five years ago.

Fields that once held corn and soybeans now hold cars for people rushing into retail outlets like Best Buy and Home Depot in the new Coleman Crossing development on the city's east side. Shoppers can stop for lunch at any of the city's 10 new restaurants, including the four-star Doc Henderson's.

All of this development, of course, places an increased demand on services. Most notably: water. The city's existing system of wells and drainage pipes was designed for a 1960's population of around 5,000 people. But now the system struggles to keep pace. The city now has 20,000 people and that population is expected to more than double over the next 40 years. City leaders say they needed to move for change.

City engineer Phil Roush says in 1996 the city began studying possible locations for a new dam and reservoir system. After settling on an old corn field just northwest of town, they hired a design firm and began filing for permits with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Corp of Engineers and state and federal EPA offices. With permits in hand, Roush says they came to the biggest obstacle: finding more than $20 million.

"In order to borrow enough money to build the reservoir, we had to look at our water rate structure," Roush says. "We found out we needed to get a water rate increase, and it took us a couple years to get that done."

The rate increase is staggered over the next three years, and raises the average bill by about three dollars a month. Marysville City council is scheduled to award the final contract at its February 14 meeting. Construction is set to begin in March.

The system will operate like most other water supplies: water will pumped from a dam on nearby Mill Creek to the reservoir, from where it's sent to an existing water treatment plant. One not-so-traditonal aspect of the project: the dam. It's inflatable. Again, Phil Roush.

"It's basically like a car tire that can be inflated," Roush says. "It has some steel plates on top of it that swing up when you inflate the rubber part."

Roush says the biggest reason for choosing an inflatable dam is to minimize impact on the environment. They take up less space than traditional fixed dams, and can be opened and closed much more quickly. Another factor, Roush says, is a unique agreement with the Corps of Engineers. The city agreed to inflate the dam only half of the year, and to not inflate it all during fish spawning season, thus requiring fewer environmental permits and less infrastructure like underwater nets and fish ladders.

Back in the city near downtown, construction crews renovate an old furniture store into office space. Just up the street, private developers recently purchased two old bars slated for demolition. Initial plans call for a museum and gift shop.

Joe Duke is chairman of the Uptown Revitalization Team. He also owns three local businesses, including Joe Duke Insurance, located in the heart of downtown on Main Street. He says the new reservoir and the influx of mega-chain stores are signs Marysville is finally growing into itself, something many people predicted 20 years ago. While he says the community overwhelmingly supports growth and development, many long-time residents are weary of losing the small-town atmosphere that drew them to Marysville.

"I don't think that's ever going to happen to Marysville because that sense has become stronger as we've continued to grow," Duke says. "That's even going to happen more. If you look at what's happening on Rt. 33 between here and Dublin and all those planned developments. But I still think there is going to be a strong sense of wanting the downtown to be the center of the community."