EATON — A project organizers believe would enhance tourism in Preble County, making Fort St. Clair a travel destination and bringing an opportunity for economic development, won’t be getting the support of Eaton City Council.
Last July, David Maynard, representing the Fort St. Clair Association, presented a proposal to city council detailing an eight-year plan to restore the fort. The plan, which did not have a firm cost estimate at the time, would utilize private donations and federal grants, and could have eventually included an archaeological dig on the site and full reconstruction of the original fort for tourism and educational purposes.
If implemented, the six-phase project could have reached completion in 2024.
The 7-10 year process would be broken into several different phases.
Maynard appeared before city council on Tuesday, Jan. 17, seeking the city’s support. After hearing the concerns of the Parks and Recreation Board in meetings in October and December, the foundation decided to focus on Phase I and II before planning any additional phases.
In Phase I, the organization’s foundations would be laid, according to the proposal. This phase would be focused on fundraising to support surveying the Fort. The association hoped to partner with the city and other interested parties and seek grants from state, federal, and private foundations.
Phase II would include hiring the surveying company and reporting to the City of Eaton on progress.
No ground would be broken during these phases and the Fort would not be disturbed, according to Maynard.
Councilman Joe Renner said residents he has spoken to have not been in favor of “disturbing the park at all.”
“I like the idea of it,” he said. “But things turn around and bite you when you least expect it.” He reminded those at the meeting, “We’re charged with looking out for the good of the residents of Eaton.”
Phases I or II were not particularly problematic for council, but members are concerned with what happens when ground is broken.
Anything below the surface belongs to the State of Ohio, according to officials.
“Anytime the state gets involved, they get their fingers in it, it gets taken away or something bad happens,” council member Craig Moormeier said.
“Or they take it over and want you to use your money,” Vice Mayor Brad Moore added, pointing out the financial burden could come back on the city.
“Residents of the City of Eaton, in our experience, don’t want that fort touched,” councilman Dave Daily said. He noted, when the state gets involved, “our experience has been, there could be significant impact and cost.”
Mayor Dave Kirsch agreed. “When you get the State of Ohio as a partner, it can end up costing,” Kirsch said. “There’s fear there.”
Kirsch noted, Phase I and Phase II as currently proposed would give the city the necessary tools to control it. He also noted, those phases were going to take a while. He noted, as councils come and go, the narrowed Phase I gives council the opportunity to control it. He said he’d thought “long and hard” about this particular project, but agreed with Renner.
“The people elected us to be good stewards for them.”
“I like the idea of the economics, I like the idea of the history that could come out of the park,” Kirsch said.
Preble County resident Mary Bullen, who was in attendance at the meeting, said she wasn’t a city resident, but said “this is a good thing.” She questioned, “Why are we so against change? Why are we so against opportunity?”
“How do you weigh the risk versus the reward when you don’t know what the risk is?” Moore asked. “As soon as you dig it up, someone else is going to tell you how to manage it. That’s where my issue is.”
Ultimately, council reached a consensus to not support moving forward with the project.
“We anticipate that this project will attract thousands of history enthusiasts, families, school field trips, and tourists to our area,” said the original proposal documents, “as we publicize the events taking place during each of the phases. This will in turn bring additional commerce to the City of Eaton as visitors utilize our local and county services during their stay.”
Ohio has several operating forts which are open to the public. The largest, Perrysburg’s Fort Meigs, sees 25,000 to 30,000 visitors annually with a budget of $350,000.
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4056 or on Twitter @emowen_RH.