By JOY BROWN
Findlay City Council today will consider legislation that, if passed, would endorse a plan to create a “riparian corridor” along Lye Creek.
The ordinance would authorize Service-Safety Director Paul Schmelzer to sign a grant agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant program.
The grant money, about $37,000 according to Blanchard River Watershed Partnership Coordinator Phil Martin, would pay for restoration of natural habitat along the west side of the creek where it intersects the Blanchard River in Findlay, just east of downtown.
The main purpose of the “riparian corridor” would be to filter and improve the quality of water in the creek.
Initial plans had called for using about $92,000 in available grant money to plant vegetation on both sides of the creek. The target area encompassed 66,000 square feet of flood-prone land owned by the city and Hancock County.
But there has been controversy, so much so that officials and the watershed partnership decreased the project’s scope, with the idea of a first phase on one side of the creek serving as a test area.
Public resistance to the plan has escalated. Some opponents don’t live near the land in question.
At a January council meeting, Sondra Bixby, a Wedgewood Drive resident, submitted a petition that she said included opinions from 42 homes that she surveyed in the neighborhood near the creek. Signatures indicating opposition were gathered from 22 houses. Two of the 42 houses are now vacant and are expected to be demolished.
Sitting with Bixby at that council meeting was Susan Thompson, who lives at 615 W. Foulke Ave. on the north side of town. She spoke against the plan, and wrote a letter to The Courier expressing the same thoughts.
Opponents have mentioned the corridor’s potential to become a haven for nuisance wildlife and drug dealers. Some said they are worried that planting more trees, shrubs and grasses will worsen flooding.
A recent concern, which Martin said isn’t valid, is that there would be controlled burning to periodically clear the corridor of invasive plant species.
Martin understands some of the concerns, but said he thinks much of the opposition has become political.
“These people are just throwing out everything they can to make sure this (project) doesn’t happen,” Martin said. “There are people throwing out some false information.”
Controlled burning, for instance, would never take place in the area being considered at Lye Creek, because it’s within the city limits, doesn’t encompass enough land, and doesn’t make sense for ground that would be covered by woody vegetation, he said.
Martin said Thompson told him she is “a conservative conservationist.”
In a January 26 post by the Findlay Ohio 9-12 Project, a conservative group that supports “the Constitution and the liberties and freedoms secured for us by our founding fathers,” the group said it “has nothing against good, legitimate conservation. However, we do have a problem with city councils across the country taking taxpayer-funded grants that increase our debt.”
Martin said he recommended to Thompson that she contact him for further discussion about her concerns.
“I haven’t heard a thing from her,” he said.
But he has heard from other skeptics.
“I know all about you guys and I don’t like it,” Martin said a woman told him at the recent Findlay Home Show, where the watershed partnership had a display.
“I asked her, ‘You’re not interested in water quality? Because that’s all we’re about.’ She said, ‘You’re not about water quality,’” Martin said.
Even if City Council agreed to build the “riparian corridor” along both sides of Lye Creek, Martin said it couldn’t because the full grant amount is no longer available. The EPA demanded a large chunk of it back, he said, because the money it had set aside remained unspent or unencumbered.
There are other communities in the six states covered by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative that are pledging to use grant money for projects, Martin said.
City Council at its 7:30 p.m. meeting today has several legislative options. It could dismiss ordinance No. 17, give it the first of three readings, or bypass the three readings and hurry passage of the measure.