By DENISE GRANT
Count the Blanchard River Flood Mitigation Study among the Army Corps of Engineers’ $4.8 billion in funded projects this year.
A total of $1.5 million has been budgeted by the corps to finish the Blanchard River flood study. That’s half the cost of a $3 million environmental review. The Hancock County commissioners will pay the other half.
The corps announced its budget Tuesday afternoon, ending months-long uncertainty about whether it could fund its share of the environmental review.
“This $1.5 million result reflects the continued spirit of Findlay/Hancock County to move our community forward through private and public cooperation,” said Commissioner Brian Robertson. “We cannot fail future generations in taking concrete steps towards a ‘chief’s report’ that will allow us to have a final project.”
Robertson thanked U.S. Rep. Bob Latta, R-Bowling Green, and U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, for their lobbying to get the federal money.
Robertson said the legislators formed a “triangle offense” and “they just helped hit a game-winning shot!”
“This is excellent news for Findlay,” Brown said. “This is also an important step toward spurring economic growth and job creation in northwestern Ohio, and protecting the region’s local homes and businesses. With this momentum, my colleagues and I will continue to fight for the project’s completion.”
Portman said the study is about improving people’s lives and the vitality of local communities.
“I am pleased the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers met our request to allocate funds to finish the study and I look forward to working with the corps to ensure it is completed as soon as possible,” Portman said.
“Continuing to advance this project plays a central role in the safety and economic growth of the City of Findlay, the Village of Ottawa, and Putnam and Hancock counties,” Latta said. “… I am also appreciative of all of the support from local governments to provide the matching funds … I look forward to continuing to work with all stakeholders as this project progresses.”
Tony Iriti, economic development director of the Findlay-Hancock County Alliance, said the study will be completed.
“And then we’ll have some options,” he said.
“I think it was the constant trips we made to Washington showing the importance of finishing the flood study that made a real difference,” Iriti said.
“The real icing on the cake,” Iriti said, was when Marathon Petroleum Corp. CEO Gary Heminger made the trip and explained the importance of the company to the nation’s transportation fuels.
The county commissioners paid $400,000 so the environmental review could get started last fall. Initial field work to identify hazardous waste sites, cultural resources, endangered species habitat and wetlands has been completed.
URS Corp., a Cleveland engineering firm, 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.
To date, the overall flood study has cost about $6 million, with the corps and the Hancock County commissioners splitting the bill.
A final Army Corps flood-control plan for the Blanchard River, in the form of a “chief’s report,” is expected in 2015. It would then be submitted to Congress in an attempt to gain up to 65 percent federal funding for construction.
Cost estimates for potential flood-control projects have ranged from $111 million to $200 million.
About $2.5 million a year is set aside for flood mitigation by the commissioners from a half-percent, 10-year sales tax increase approved by Hancock County voters in 2009. Half of the tax revenue is used for flood control, the other half is used for county operations. Findlay also contributed $1.8 million toward the flood fund.