Conflicting sides: Geist Lake Coalition continues to pursue conservancy district; Make Geist Healthy Again opposes the initiative

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John Domokos said he didn’t move to Admirals Pointe, a neighborhood bordering Geist Reservoir, because of its proximity to the water. He cited good schools, fair price and a wooded area as reasons for purchasing the home. That’s why he doesn’t think it’s fair he may be taxed by a proposed conservancy district with a mission to clean up the reservoir.

The Geist Lake Coalition is proposing a conservancy district, which, if approved, would be one of 94 others across the state. It would create a volunteer board of conservancy district residents, chosen through an election process, that would have authority to establish taxes and fees to create a clean-up initiative for the lake. They would target all homeowners within the district, even if their homes don’t border the water. 

“I’m not a boater. I don’t have that type of money,” Domokos said. “When I moved into this house nearly 30 years ago, it was the elementary school system. I liked that it was a wooded area, the location. You had the schools, you had a beautiful home. We looked at Carmel and found a very similar house, but the house we bought (in Geist) was nicer and less expensive.”

When the conservancy district petition was proposed, Domokos launched an opposition effort called Make Geist Healthy Again. He agrees the lake should be cleaned up, but he said the Geist Lake Coalition is going about it the wrong way.

“Their focus is primarily on silt removal and spraying and killing all the weeds so they don’t create problems for their boats. That’s not where the true focus should be (for the health of the reservoir),” Domokos said.

Instead of spraying weeds and dredging, Domokos said best practices for long-term prevention should be used instead. 
Domokos said issues upstream should be addressed to prevent septic runoff and noted the conservancy district would implement unfair taxation.

“If there’s going to be a taxing district, it should be composed of homeowners who benefit from the remediation of the lake,” Domokos said. “Those are exclusively the lakefront owners and lake access owners, people who have boat docks. Other people who should pay into the fund are the recreational users of the lake, the hundreds, if not thousands, of boaters and fishermen.”

Domokos said residents insist Citizens Energy, the reservoir’s owner, hasn’t properly cared for the lake and should be among the main parties responsible for paying for its clean up.

Domokos also cited concerns about the conservancy district not establishing a tax cap, but Cory Peter, a member of the Geist Lake Coalition board that is proposing the conservancy district, said none of the conservancy districts within the state have established a tax cap.

“What’s the lake going to need in 10, 20, 30 years? What if it needs more dredging?” Peter said. “We don’t know, so to us, setting this up in the exact same format as all other conservancy districts is completely normal.”

Peter recognizes the environmental concerns upstream, but he also said weed treatment can be accomplished through dredging and not just spraying.

“We don’t want to treat any more weeds than we have to,” Peter said. “If we can dredge, weed treatment goes away in the future. It rained over the weekend, so dirt came into the lake. If (the lake is) deeper, sun doesn’t hit bottom.”

So far, the Geist Lake Coalition has received approximately 1,300 signatures in favor of the conservancy district, which accounts for approximately 30 percent of residents. Only 15 percent of the district’s residents’ signatures are needed to file the petition.

Peter said the coalition plans to file the petition with the Hamilton County Circuit Court before the end of the year. If it passes the circuit court, the petition will appear before the Natural Resources Commission and goe through a public hearing process.

If the petition is approved, Peter expects a conservancy district board to be established and taxing to begin in 2022 or 2023.

 Inability to reach compromise

Geist Lake Coalition board member Cory Peter said he and the other members have met with several people who oppose the conservancy district. They have even removed a dozen names from the petition at the request of the people who signed it. They offered to meet with those who had questions or concerns, including John Domokos, the leader of the opposition group called Make Geist Healthy Again. However, Domokos had requested the conservancy district petition and its signatures be shredded at his meeting.

“Negotiations can start when that petition is shredded,” Domokos said. “They said they would not meet. So, I gave them a proposal, but they refused to meet.”

Peter said the coalition felt Domokos wasn’t comprising. 

“John Domokos said the only way to meet with us is to shred the petition. We have over 1,300 signatures,” Peter said. “We felt he wasn’t open to compromise.”

The Geist Lake Coalition has published a list of FAQs on its website, geistlakecoalition.org. For more on the concerns from the opposition, visit the Make Geist Healthy Again Facebook page.

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