By DENISE GRANT
Hancock County’s commissioners were urged to “stay the course” on flood control Thursday.
Findlay Mayor Lydia Mihalik and Kathy Kreuchauf, president of the Community Foundation, attended Thursday’s meeting and encouraged the commissioners not to waver in their dedication to Blanchard River flood-control efforts.
Tuesday’s Republican primary race between Commissioner Phillip Riegle and his challenger, Steve Oman, a former commissioner, has been focused on the flood-control issue.
Earlier this week, Trustees David Bower of Eagle Township, and Jerry Wolford of Cass Township delivered petitions to the commissioners. The petitions bear the signatures of trustees from nine of Hancock County’s 17 townships. They asked that all logjams and islands be removed from the river, and that river banks be cleared and planted with grass. That work would be more extensive than the river-clearing project now underway.
In October, a joint board of county commissioners from the Blanchard River watershed voted to hire Tawa Tree Service, Ottawa, to clear the river. Tawa was awarded a $381,302 contract.
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 project began in Putnam County, and workers are expected to reach Hancock County by June, said Gary Tuttle, a technician with the Hancock Soil and Water Conservation District.
The cleanup includes 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.
The project is not removing islands or clearing the banks, as the township trustees urged.
The contract was awarded in the fall, but Tuttle said so far there have only been 21 work days on the river due to weather. He expects the work in Hancock County will be finished by the end of summer.
Workers started at the Blanchard River’s outlet into the Auglaize River at Dupont, and are moving upstream. A total of 274 trees have been pulled from the river so far, and 89 logjams.
Both Bower and Wolford were highly critical this week of the flood-control plan being developed by the Army Corps of Engineers for the Blanchard River watershed, a position shared by Oman. The trustees encouraged the commissioners to dredge the river, even if it means breaking Environmental Protection Agency rules that prohibit it.
On Thursday, Mihalik cautioned the commissioners against “playing politics with the lives of thousands of people who live in the watershed.” To disregard the EPA’s restrictions on dredging the river, she said, “is taking on a battle we can’t win.”
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.
EPA mandates can’t be ignored, the mayor said. Findlay is in the process of updating both its water and sewer lines, Mihalik said, and is spending millions to comply with EPA regulations.
Kreuchauf, who said she attended Thursday’s meeting as a representative of the former Northwest Ohio Flood Mitigation Partnership, said she was aware of the trustees’ petition. The partnership, a private-public group, organized shortly after the flood of 2007 and had a goal of completing the flood study within seven years.
“… I think we all share the frustration of the township trustees who signed that petition,” Kreuchauf said. “I encourage you not to become distracted by half measures.”
She said cleaning the river is important, but it won’t help with flooding, and dredging the river despite environmental rules, as the trustees suggested, is illegal.
“Stay the course, stay unified and continue to push for a complete solution that will benefit the entire watershed,” Kreuchauf said.
Steve Schroeder, a retired Cooper Tire executive and a member of the mitigation partnership, also attended Thursday’s meeting. He kept his comments short.
“We know the facts. Stay the course,” he told the commissioners.
Janet Brodman, of 1715 West-View Drive, pleaded with officials to find a solution to the flooding.
Brodman, 58, said she’s stuck. She can’t sell her home, and has had to evacuate the property 11 times.
“I went to stay in a hotel the week before Christmas. I had to put everything up and vacate the house. I was making the family’s Christmas cookies. That didn’t get done. I was making chocolates and had to leave them.”
She said the flooding is disruptive and depressing, and she blamed the stress for killing several of her neighbors since 2007.
Bill Johns, a downtown building manager, and Warren Krout, owner of Sour Flower pawn shop, also turned out to show their support for flood-control planning.