By DENISE GRANT
Congress has increased funding to the Army Corps of Engineers and is requiring the agency to consider changing how it prioritizes flood projects, which may benefit the Blanchard River study.
On Monday, three Ohio lawmakers sent a letter to Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, asking that funds in the federal Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014 be put toward the Blanchard River project.
In the letter, U.S. Rep. Bob Latta, R-Bowling Green, and Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Robert Portman, R-Ohio, said Congress recognizes that flood-control projects can lead to significant economic benefits by avoiding damages caused by flooding.
The new appropriations bill “requires the corps to consider prioritizing” studies that enhance development, job growth and competitiveness, according to the letter.
The bill increased corps funding by 10 percent over fiscal year 2013, and a 14 percent increase over the president’s fiscal year 2014 budget request.
“It is an important step that the Consolidated Appropriations Act recognized that additional funding was needed for flood-control projects, with an emphasis on economic development,” Latta said.
“As I saw firsthand when I visited in December, the Findlay and Ottawa region continues to be plagued with flooding,” Portman said.
Portman called flood control “critical” to the communities’ economic future.
“I join with my colleagues in continuing to urge the corps to prioritize its work on an expedited path forward to overcome this challenge,” Portman said.
However, with earmarks still off the table in Washington, D.C., the lawmakers can do little more than continue to prod the corps to continue funding the Blanchard River project. Congress has asked the corps to provide a work plan, based on the new priorities, within 45 days.
“We know that flood-control projects like the Blanchard River help spur economic growth and protect local communities from devastating disasters,” Brown said. “Six years ago, $70 million in damages occurred in Findlay and Ottawa due to the worst flood those communities experienced in 100 years.”
So far, the Hancock County commissioners are paying for the flood study’s final phase, an environmental review, with money from the county’s $10 million flood fund.
Initial field work to identify hazardous waste sites, cultural resources, endangered species habitat and wetlands has been completed. URS Corp., an engineering firm in Cleveland, is overseeing the environmental review.
The company provides technical and planning assistance in developing flood risk management ideas. The firm was hired in 2011 to finish the first phase of the flood study after federal funding ran out and work stopped.
About $2.5 million a year is set aside for the flood fund from a half-percent, 10-year sales tax increase approved by voters in 2009. Half of the revenue from this tax is used for flood control, the other half is used for county operations.
Findlay also contributed $1.8 million to the flood fund.
About $3 million is needed to finish the environmental review and complete the flood-control study. The Hancock County commissioners want the corps to pay half, but so far there has been no federal funding for the review.
To date, the flood study has cost $6 million, with the corps and the commissioners splitting the bill.
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