The city of Pickerington owns Windmiller Pond and its adjacent land behind the water tower off Gray Drive.

The 10-acre tract -- west of Windmiller Drive, south of Refugee Road and north of Maranatha Community Church -- is a little-known respite for great blue herons, sandpipers, turtles and various other creatures. That is expected to change in 2018 when the dam will be removed and the pond drained.

The pond's dam has a concrete outlet control structure that has been failing for years and rather than replace it, the city of Pickerington has chosen to remove the dam and, by extension, Windmiller Pond.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources mandated the city come up with a plan to either fix or remove the pond's dam after it issued a 2011 report noting several deficiencies, including insufficient spillway capacity, lack of lake drain and lack of an emergency plan.

Windmiller Pond experienced overflow issues two years ago because of heavy rains.

The city has opted to eliminate the existing pond and restore the stream channel while providing ecosystem enhancements to the parcel.

Pickerington City Engineer Scott Tourville said the removal option is a more cost-effective measure than trying to maintain the dam.

Tourville stated that once the dam is removed, Windmiller Pond will resemble a stream or small creek that is 6 to 19 feet wide and will have areas that will be 4 to 12 inches in water depth.

When it rain some water would be stored in the current dam footprint area to reduce downstream flooding.

According to Tourville, the pond was constructed privately in 1962 as an agricultural pond for irrigation and flood control purposes.

The city assumed ownership of the pond as a result of a land trade about 15 years ago.

Tourville advised Pickerington City Council's Service Committee on Sept. 20 the removal project is in the 2018 budget, with the cost pegged at a conservative estimate of $400,000, but it might be lower.

"We'll be working with our design engineer to fine tune it this November or December," Tourville said. "We think it probably will cost about $300,000."

One of the issues Tourville brought up is whether the city should pay for a company to conduct soil samples to see if there is contamination in the pond basin before it is drained.

"There is 4 or 5 feet of muck on the bottom of the basin," Tourville said.

"We're going to remove that and dry it out next summer. We're going to test the soil to make sure there is a good embankment, something we can use for long-term stability in the area."

Tourville said because of the pond's proximity to shopping centers and gas stations, the soil on the bottom of Windmiller Pond might have been subject to oil spills and vehicle fluid leaks.

"There is a slight risk for elevated levels of hydrocarbons," he said. "We can test (the soil) in advance or during construction," he said.

The risk is knowing now or knowing later should there be substantive levels of contaminants in the soil.

For $3,000, the city can find an answer.

"If we test it now and discover the soil is contaminated, we can design around it," Tourville said.

City Councilman Jerry Dailey, a retired engineer, recommended the testing be done after removal, as did fellow Councilman Tony Barletta.

"I think you're good on no test. I'm not sure if it saves you anything," Barletta said.

"It's kind of partial knowledge."

City Manager Bill Vance, however, warned against the possibility of sending contaminants downstream to neighborhoods.

"Really the question is our decision to take the risk before or after," Dailey said.

Tourville said based on recommendations from City Council's Service Committee, Pickerington will test the soil for physical characteristics, but won't test for contaminants prior to removal.