Liability questions emerging from a log jam caused by new personal watercraft docks placed in the Portage River dominated a portion of Monday night’s meeting of Oak Harbor Village Council.
Councilwoman Donna Wendt asked Village Solicitor Jim Barney if he had researched potential liabilities should the log jam cause personal harm or property damage in weeks to come. Boaters know the risks of traveling these waterways, he said.
She noted, however, she was specifically concerned about potential damage to things such as wastewater and regional water system equipment in the river.
Based on the research he had done, Barney said he believed the village does not face a liability issue. “I cannot find anything that the village would be responsible. But I am not saying it’s not possible.”
The log jam in the river near the end of Church Street developed after torrential rainfall doused the Oak Harbor area in early October.
“The river rose 5 feet and the current went from 22 cubic feet per second to 6,800 cubic feet,” Mayor Bill Eberle reported in an interview the next day.
As a result, logs and debris collected around the docks the village placed in the river this spring as part of an economic development push in the downtown area. The watercraft season runs from spring to about mid-October. The docks were recently removed for maintenance prior to being put away in winter storage. The log jam, though, remains encrusted in sediment and other debris.
Hence, Wendt’s concern.
Eberle said be believes the log jam will naturally break free and dissipate without problems.
Councilman Jon Fickert asked Barney who he consulted before making his statements.
Barney said he researched case law in his office.
Fickert said he should consider contacting representatives from the Ohio Department of Transportation (which owns the nearby bridge), the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Division of Watercraft, all of which maintain good relationships with the village.
Barney said he didn’t think that was necessary. It had been his experience, the attorney said, that staff in those types of offices were not willing to discuss or identify such liability potentials on a hypothetical basis.
Wendt said she was simply trying to play devil’s advocate regarding the log jam.
Fickert grew slightly irritated that Barney didn’t seem to want to expand his research.
“OK, let’s just not do anything,” Fickert said. “And if something happens, we’ll put out the fire then.”
Wendt said in her 24 years in office, she had found village solicitor advice regarding liability issues to stand up well.
“If he says, we’re OK, then we’re OK. I’m satisfied,” she said.