By DENISE GRANT
The “State of the County” address got political Thursday when Hancock County Commissioner Phillip Riegle stepped to the podium and began taking jabs at his rival’s election campaign.
Riegle, of 22525 Delaware Township 184, who is finishing his second, four-year term as a commissioner, is being challenged in May’s Republican primary by former Commissioner Steve Oman.
Oman, of 13123 Hancock County 9, is a farmer. He served two terms as a commissioner before losing his seat to Ed Ingold in 2004.
He has tried twice to get it back. He ran for an open commissioner seat in 2006, losing to Riegle. He then challenged Commissioner Emily Walton in the 2008 primary election and lost.
Oman has insisted that the Blanchard River needs to be cleaned first as part of an effort to control flooding. He also has said the region should opt out of flood-control studies being conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Riegle, and Commissioners Mark Gazarek and Brian Robertson, took turns at the podium during Thursday’s address. It was left to Riegle, however, to talk about the river.
Riegle said the Blanchard River is being cleaned. Work on the river started in the fall, he said. The plan is to remove all logjams and some leaning trees.
For the first time, the plan also calls for removing trees and vegetation from islands, and starting to remove dead ash trees, “making it the most aggressive cleanout we have done,” Riegle said.
Riegle also challenged Oman’s calls to dredge the river.
Riegle said the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has said that dredging and removal of islands in the river are not allowed due to the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act. He said the county must follow the regulations or face serious consequences.
Even if dredging the river was an option, Riegle said it would be very expensive and would do little to address flood problems.
Recent models developed by the Army Corps of Engineers show that removing four feet of material from the entire riverbed would only reduce the height of a 100-year flood by 1 inch.
Oman attended Thursday’s speech, but did not question Riegle when the floor was open to the public. The two clashed over the same issue last week at a Republican lunch.
Riegle and Oman have also been asked to participate in a forum sponsored by The Courier, WFIN-AM, WLFC-FM and UFTV at 11 a.m. on Monday. Doug Jenkins, news director for WFIN, will moderate the event.
The forum will be held at the University of Findlay’s television studio and will be open to the public. Seating is limited.
WLFC will air the forum at 6 p.m. Tuesday; at noon April 18; at 4 p.m. April 20; and at 10 a.m. April 21.
Other highlights from Thursday’s State of the County address included:
- A $406,000 Moving Ohio Forward Grant was used to demolish 36 dilapidated, flood-prone structures in the county.
- A report from the Hancock County engineer on road work last year showed 15.8 miles of county roads and 11.2 miles of township roads were resurfaced. Bridges were replaced last year on Township 87 over Moffitt Ditch; on County 86 over Ottawa Creek; and on Township 196 over Corbin Ditch.
- Hancock County Job Solutions hosted 246 hiring events in 2013, and posted 1,379 jobs on Ohio’s JOBsolutions.net website. The agency is now focusing on workforce readiness for those with excessive barriers to employment.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a corrected version of this story.