By DENISE GRANT
Several township trustees in Hancock County have joined the debate about cleaning the Blanchard River.
Trustees David Bower of Eagle Township, and Jerry Wolford of Cass Township delivered petitions to the Hancock County commissioners on Tuesday. The petitions bear the signatures of trustees from nine of Hancock County’s 17 townships.
Both men are officers of the Hancock County Trustee Association. However, Bower said the petition drive was held independently of the association.
The petitions ask that all logjams and islands be removed from the river, and that river banks be cleared and planted with grass.
River cleanup work now underway is not that extensive. Islands are being cleared, but not removed, and river banks are not being cleared.
If the extra work is done, “we would increase the capacity and velocity of the river back to a level that 90 percent of the rains the watershed receives, would flow through the river unnoticed,” according to the petitions.
“That way, you only have to mow it every couple of years, and you don’t have to keep cleaning it all the time,” Wolford said.
The petitions say the cleaning should be done first, no matter what else is done to the watershed, “because there is only one way for the water to leave, and that is the Blanchard River.”
The argument is similar to one being made by commissioner candidate Steve Oman.
Trustees who signed the petitions include: Jackson Township, Chairman Rick Stacy, Merritt Von Stein and Brian Miller; Marion Township, Chairman Robert Johnson, John Wolfe and Jim Gosche; Blanchard Township, Chairman Robert Burner, Richard Fenstermaker and Bruce Arnold; Union Township, Chairman Jeff Augustine, Jason Huffman and Gary Reichley; Van Buren Township, Chairman David Weihrauch, Howard Von Stein and John Wilson; Delaware Township, Chairman John Beagle, Kevin Stauffer, and Steven Miller; Cass Township, Chairman Jerry Wolford, Shawn Altman and Ron Stacy; Madison Township, Chairman H. Michael Miller, Edwin Rettig and Mark Hartman; Liberty Township, Chairman Jeff Hunker, Shawn Beucler and Herb Stump.
Bower said the petitions were drafted early this year when a group of concerned citizens met to discuss the river, following a visit by U.S. Rep. Robert Latta in December.
About 120 people, mostly farmers, met with Latta, demanding “some common sense out of Washington” when it comes to flood-control efforts in the Blanchard River watershed.
The trustees were in a similar mood Tuesday. Bower and Wolford said Findlay will flood regardless of what is done with the river.
“Even the Army Corps will tell you that,” Wolford said. “We’re not trying to pick a fight with the City of Findlay, but that’s the truth.”
Commissioner Mark Gazarek explained that Tawa Tree Service, Ottawa, has been hired to clean the river. Tawa started in the Putnam County town of Dupont, and is working its way toward Findlay, he said. The river has been cleared past Ottawa, so far.
In all, debris will be cleared from 88.5 miles of the river, including 46.2 miles in Hancock County, 34.5 miles in Putnam County and 7.8 miles in Hardin County.
The cleanup will include removing debris from the main channel of the river. Thirty-one islands will be cleared. No sandbars will be removed. Large trees, pulled from the river, will be left along the outer treeline.
Tawa was awarded a $381,302 contract for the work.
The trustees, like Oman, want sandbars and islands removed from the river, even if that means breaking Ohio Environmental Protection Agency rules, which prohibit dredging the river.
The EPA prohibits dredging because the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has identified Hancock County as being home to two endangered species of freshwater mussels.