By JOY BROWN
and DENISE GRANT
Marathon Petroleum Corp.’s president said Monday his company’s planned $80 million expansion in downtown Findlay assumes there will be “progression” on flood control, which he impressed upon federal officials during a visit to Washington several days before the project was announced.
Gary Heminger said there is enough interest and momentum for Blanchard River flood control to push it through the Army Corps of Engineers and Congress.
Marathon’s plan to build a new “campus” on the South Main Street block that contains the old Elks building was unveiled as government officials make a push for flood control that is more focused on the region’s economy.
Heminger said his lobbying for the headquarters expansion began with his own board of directors.
“Any business that is significantly impacted by flooding would be asking themselves whether they should make changes,” Heminger said.
Marathon has been seriously affected by flooding.
The 2007 flood caused $4.1 million in damage to the first floor and basement at its East Hardin Street headquarters. That flood and others also kept employees from getting to work.
“I have shared with them (board) the significant work that has been done to develop a flood-mitigation plan to resolve this problem,” Heminger said.
“They, too, are interested in seeing that the work with the corps advances to achieve the goal of once and for all addressing this problem,” he said.
“It is imperative that we resolve the flooding problem. But I remain confident that as a community we will address this problem and our downtown will be a vibrant location for our expanded headquarters,” Heminger said.
Heminger said he reminded federal officials “of the significant impact flooding has on our company, but more importantly, the impact it has on our employees and their families.”
“I indicated that we are looking to make a significant investment in our downtown community and, with that investment, we wanted to ensure that resolving this problem was a high priority for the corps,” Heminger said.
Heminger said he thinks his visit to Washington “provided a better understanding of the importance of our operations…”
He said the Findlay headquarters manages about 9.5 percent of the nation’s daily transportation fuels, and that “it is a 24/7 operation of a critical nature.”
“Our employees need to be able to focus on meeting the energy needs of our consumers and not worried about flooding of their homes and safety of their families,” he said.
The corps’ propensity for funding flood-control projects in more highly-populated regions has shifted when it comes to distributing $8 million now available to finish flood-control studies.
Eligibility is focusing more on economic impact, and northwestern Ohio officials are hoping to capitalize on that.
“We heard it for two days from the higher-ups at the corps that what he (Heminger) said really resonated with them,” said Tony Iriti, economic development director of the Findlay-Hancock County Alliance.
Iriti was referring to a lobbying trip that he, Mayor Lydia Mihalik and Hancock County Commissioner Brian Robertson made to Washington last week.
“He was able to connect those points as to why flood control here is so important to the nation,” Iriti said of Heminger.
“With our visit coming on the heels of his, we were able to explain that we’re ready with our local share. I’m really encouraged,” Iriti said.
“If they come back and say, ‘Sorry, you’re not funded,’ then we know where we stand on everything.”
Robertson said area leaders will keep “walking the capital” to make sure federal officials are reminded of northwestern Ohio’s needs. Mihalik said they may even pay a second visit to the capital before the end of the month.
Robertson said the economic impact of flooding reaches beyond the Blanchard River watershed, and used the December flood as an example.
That flood, the 11th worst in Findlay’s history, blocked Interstate 75 and disrupted shipments from Nissin Brake of Ohio in Findlay to Honda of America’s factory outside Marysville.
Robertson, who began his commissioner’s term a year ago, had campaigned on “flooding as an economic issue,” he said.
Robertson’s own company, Manufacturing Business Development Solutions, faces similar problems during floods. The company supplies Honda, Nissan, Toyota, and General Motors products.
The company is expanding. It recently bought a vacant building at 240 Commerce Way, Upper Sandusky, for $1.6 million for manufacturing. The new plant will create 25 jobs initially and 40 new full-time jobs by 2017, Robertson said.
Gov. John Kasich recently called Robertson to congratulate him on the expansion and to offer the state’s help.
“I had two words for him: flood mitigation,” Robertson said.
He said area leaders are doing the right thing by pushing hard to finish an environmental review for the Blanchard River flood study.
About $6 million has already been spent on the flood study, with the Hancock County commissioners and the Army Corps of Engineers splitting the bill. The commissioners have also asked the corps to split the $3 million needed to finish the environmental review, which is the final stage of the flood study.
There is enough money in the county’s flood fund, which now tops $10 million, to cover the whole cost of the environmental review, if necessary. However, federal rules require that the $200,000 needed for a peer review of the plan be funded entirely by the corps.
The peer review panel is appointed by an independent organization and will include a cross-section of experts on flood-mitigation issues. The peer review is need before a “chief’s report,” the final flood-study document, is released by the corps. The report is due out in 2015.
Robertson, who at one point vowed not to continue the flood study without the corps’ continued financial support, sounded more confident Monday that help is coming. He said federal lawmakers are beginning to make the link between the economy and flood control.
Congress recently increased funding to the Army Corps of Engineers and is requiring the agency to consider economic impact, instead of just population, as it prioritizes flood-control projects.
Robertson said the economic focus will move the Blanchard River flood study up on the corps’ list of priorities.
“The key to this is once we have the chief’s report, that will open up a whole lot of options for us,” Iriti said. “People don’t understand that (without the chief’s report) we can’t move a spoonful of dirt without the corps’ permission.”