By JOY BROWN
Findlay City Council, after hearing again from detractors, decided Tuesday not to rush a “riparian corridor” proposal for a portion of Lye Creek.
Council gave the first of three readings to an ordinance that, if approved, would allow the city to accept an Environmental Protection Agency grant to pay for the project. Council members made no effort to hurry passage of the legislation.
The riparian corridor plan, developed by the Blanchard River Watershed Partnership, would return some land along Lye Creek, near the Blanchard River, to its natural state by planting native vegetation.
The project is meant to filter and improve the quality of water in the creek.
“We’ve expressed our opinion. If government against the will of the people is your modus operandi, then clearly we are powerless,” said Sondra Bixby, who lives in a neighborhood near the creek.
A petition that Bixby circulated showed that most of the neighbors who signed it were against the project.
But 1st Ward Councilwoman Holly Frische pointed out that a handful of people attended a January public meeting to gauge opinion, and a majority of them said they were in favor.
“People were open to it that day,” Frische said. “If you voted in favor of it then, and we’re still debating this, do you feel your vote didn’t count then, either?”
Bixby said the January meeting was “very impromptu” and wasn’t well-attended because many didn’t know about it.
Opponents have expressed concerns that the riparian corridor could provide a home for nuisance wildlife, may aggravate flooding, and may require open burning to remove invasive plant species.
Bixby gave council the minutes of the May 2013 Hancock Park District board meeting, when the Lye Creek project was addressed. The park board discussed “habitat and compatibility of animals with neighbors, issue of controlled burns in the urban area, compatibility of natural area at that location,” according to the minutes.
Emerson Focht of 719 Wedgewood Drive told council he’s worried about coyotes.
“If they start coming in, you’re going to have kids, dogs, pets around the area. I don’t want to be facing a snarling coyote who’s mad because we disrupted his meal,” Focht said.
“You’ve heard the phrase, ‘not in my backyard.’ Think about that when you vote for this,” Focht urged council. “Would you want it in your backyard?”
Phil Martin, coordinator of the Blanchard River Watershed Partnership, attended the meeting but did not speak.
Separately, Marathon Performing Arts Center representatives urged council to pay for waterline improvements around the yet-to-be-constructed center.
The city is mandating that larger waterlines be built, in part to improve water pressure and to accommodate a fire suppression system that will be included in the center.
Findlay’s Water and Sewer Committee has already recommended that the city, rather than the arts center, pay for the $300,000 in waterline and paving work.
Architect Jerry Murray and arts center board chair Ed Reading on Tuesday urged the city to become a “partner” by covering the costs.
Arts center supporters have “done a herculean job to raise funds” for the center, Murray said. He said $10 million is being raised for construction costs, and $2 million to create an endowment. In comparision, $300,000 for waterline work “is relatively small,” he said.
Reading followed up with information about the center’s importance to the community. He said the center is estimated in its first year of operation to generate $1 million, and “create $68,000 in revenue for local governments.”
The center will “directly benefit everyone who calls Hancock County their home,” Reading said.
Legislation authorizing the waterline work was not introduced to council Tuesday, but some members indicated they favor it.
“The stars are certainly aligned after 15 years on this particular center,” said 2nd Ward Councilman Randy Van Dyne. “I think it behooves the City of Findlay to line up as one of the stars. This is exactly the kind of project we need to be looking at. The last thing I want is to see us become a roadblock, a stumbling block, a landmine to any of the great things happening in this community.”
“This is a great opportunity for us to lend a hand,” said Mayor Lydia Mihalik. “And it’s in keeping with us continuing to put an emphasis on our infrastructure.”
If the city doesn’t agree to shoulder the waterline costs, Murray said later, arts center supporters will have to raise $300,000 more, or do without some things inside the building.
Separately Tuesday, council appropriated $5.1 million for clearwell work at the water treatment plant, and bar screen replacement at the sewage treatment plant. Those projects are on this year’s capital improvement plan and have been anticipated for years.
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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a corrected version of this story.