By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer
FORT THOMAS - Fencing will soon be going up around a pair of Fort Thomas reservoirs and adjoining walking and jogging trails that have been closed to the public since just after the 9-11 terrorist attacks.
But the head of the Northern Kentucky Water District, which operates the reservoirs, insisted Monday that no decision has been reached on permanently closing the walking paths to the public.
The district is working with Fort Thomas city leaders and a citizens committee on ways to increase security while providing some public access, said water district president and CEO Ron Lovan.
"We are trying to take concerns of the citizens into account," Lovan said. "But we also have to take into account the 70,000-plus customers we serve in a multicounty region and the protection of the water supply."
The water district's board of directors may decide at its meeting Aug. 19 what type of fence will be installed and when it might go up, Lovan said.
Residents and officials in Fort Thomas have met with the district in an attempt to come up with a compromise that would increase security while at least partially reopening the walking paths.
"Those areas have been highly utilized by the public for years," said Fort Thomas City Administrator Jeff Earlywine.
"We understand that the reservoirs are (water) district property and security is important," Earlywine said Monday. "But we hope they don't make a unilateral decision to permanently close the facility to the public."
Once the fencing is installed, the walking paths might be opened to the public for limited hours in the daytime when Homeland Security terrorism alerts are not high, Lovan said.
"Once we can better secure the perimeter of (the) site, and if security levels decrease over time, then that makes it easier to consider partially opening the site back up during daytime hours," Lovan said.
Earlywine said that with homes abutting the water district's property, the city and residents are also concerned about the aesthetics of the proposed fencing.
City officials and neighbors are imploring the water district "to go with an approach on the fencing that is less commercial and more residential in its appearance," Earlywine said.
A meeting for people who live near the reservoirs is scheduled for Thursday at 7 p.m. at Fort Thomas Community Center - also known as the Mess Hall - in Tower Park.
The reservoirs, between U.S. 27 and South Fort Thomas Avenue, hold water pumped up a hill from the Ohio River. The water is treated at a plant also on reservoir grounds.
Lovan said the district and city have discussed jointly developing park areas near the reservoirs or installing a permanent perimeter trail away from the water's edge. But no agreements have been reached, he said.
Edwin Vardiman of Military Parkway, a residential street that runs alongside the reservoir, said he is "shocked and dismayed" at the prospect of closing off the reservoirs after "years and years of public use and enjoyment of green space in the middle of Fort Thomas."
Vardiman said he fears the water district will install a razor-wire fence that would harm property values. He added that if terrorists are determined to attack the water system, a fence won't stop them.
"The public used these areas without security incidents for years," he said. "The prime security 'fix' for such facilities is the detection of contaminants. No fence is going to detect a thing."
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