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Residents, officials talk slow development on River Road

Photo by Janelle Patterson Devola resident Jim Huggins walks his dog down River Road passing a picnic shelter which was mostly underwater in February.

DEVOLA — Along River Road in Devola sit sprawling recreational options and some farmland on one side, and to the other prime riverfront lots.

But there are only 14 homes and one camper taking advantage of the 1.4-mile expanse of river property between Ohio 60 and Devol’s Dam. Meanwhile, more than 10 lots sit simply with trees, with an empty concrete slab or stairs from the river to a home that is no longer there.

“We like it the way it is out here,” said Connie Devol, who with her husband Mike, owns a red log cabin on the Muskingum River side of the road.

The purpose of the cabin is recreational for the Devols, and the serenity of their view, paired with the quick access to the East Muskingum Civic Association’s summer pool.

“It’s a summer place to bring the grandkids, and we fish,” added Devol. “We don’t need much more out here.”

Photo by Janelle Patterson Mike Devol, of Belpre, mows the lawn of his river lot in Devola.

But what’s to be done with the empty slabs which collect the debris of leaves in fall, the snow in winter, and overgrowth in the warmer months? None have signs for sale and most have been unoccupied for some time.

“One of those houses was just very old and was torn down,” explained Muskingum Township Trustee Gary Doan. “We’ve never had any water up on the road, not even in the 2004 flood. The derecho storm in 2012 didn’t even do too much damage.”

Former trustee John Karas said another lot now vacant of structure was the result of a bad fire.

Robert Forbes, who owns a second home on River Road, said the challenges of developing the river side of the road are more encompassing than just flood plain considerations or fires.

“There’s no right of way for the township if you want to run water to any of those lots on the left of the road,” he explained, noting the expansion possibility being explored for the Marietta River Trail and Devola Multi-Use Trail. “They’ll find that difficult but also there’s a lot of erosion that has happened below the dam over the last 50 years. So while the flood of ’04 did not get in the bottom of my apartment down there, there’s much less waterfront acreage than there used to be.”

Photo by Janelle Patterson February high waters in the Muskingum River left only a small portion of a picnic shelter on a riverfront property on River Road.

More recently the high waters of February did almost make it to the road, according to Jim Huggins, who walks the road everyday with his dog in a loop back to his Devola home.

“When the river was really flush, it was so high there was no dam,” he described. “It was a lake out there and really it came up into several of the shelters on these lots.”

Huggins shared a photo he took of one picnic shelter on a property that could only be noted by the roof still above water.

“Now with the strict (Federal Emergency Management Agency) regulations a bank can’t lend money on building or mortgage unless you have flood insurance or are out of the flood plain,” he added. “So I don’t see it changing much out here.”

Cheyenne Oaks, a local realtor, explained that change may still come though, albeit slowly.

Photo by Janelle Patterson This empty lot on River Road is one of several. Others have piles of rocks and debris where homes used to be.

“People are hesitant to purchase in a FEMA designated flood zone due to what can be pretty hefty flood insurance premiums. Most lenders are required to have their clients purchase flood insurance if any part of the property falls within the flood zone on the FEMA flood maps,” she explained. “Also, many times buyers are now required to obtain a Flood Elevation Certificate which can only be done by a surveyor, engineer or architect and that can become pricey. People are still buying in flood prone areas because of the benefits of the views and recreation opportunities. Sometimes these listings take just a longer to sell.”

Connie Devol said she and her husband would simply like to take on the lot next door to theirs, for better river access, but otherwise they are content with the peaceful serenity of the road which provides a perfect vacation, only 20 minutes from their new Belpre home.

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