By DENISE GRANT
Carl Back, 90, has lived on Findlay’s Fairmont Drive for 15 years, so he was there when the Blanchard River washed into his basement in August 2007.
Back said he couldn’t understand it.
A retired mechanical engineer who holds more than 20 patents, Back once lived in Cincinnati.
“Cincinnati doesn’t flood, and by God, that is where a river is a river,” he said.
He’s referring to the Ohio River, and said by comparison, the Blanchard River is little more than a ditch.
“The Blanchard River is very small and very short,” Back said. “I put the length at 15 miles as a river. From that point to Kenton, I call it a ditch.”
Of course, Cincinnati does have a history of deadly floods.
The Ohio River floods of 1913 and 1937 nearly sunk the city, but Back said the Army Corps of Engineers has been able to mitigate much of the flooding there.
Back doesn’t have the same confidence in the corps’ plans for the Blanchard River.
“Everything they do is based on elevation and gravity,” he said.
Back said the corps needs to consider more than just the lay of the land, which is fairly flat here.
Back said there is only a 250-foot drop in the river from Kenton to Findlay. Between Findlay and Ottawa, the drop is 58 feet, and the river makes 30 U-turns.
The way to handle the Blanchard River’s excess water, he believes, is to use powerful pumps to push floodwater out of Findlay and Ottawa.
“We ought to manhandle that river. Use some horsepower,” Back said.
Over the past five years, Back has designed a system that would use a several high-pressure pumps installed in the bottom of the river to increase the river flow. There would be three stations in Findlay, located at Bright Road, Main Street and Broad Avenue.
He said vertical turbine pumps are capable of drawing up to 135,000 gallons of water per minute, and increasing the speed of the river up to 52 mph through Findlay.
Back said each station would require retainer walls at least 9 feet high, and 300 feet long.
Similar stations could be built in Ottawa, he said.
“The pumps could also give us a two-day jump whenever a flood is forecasted. We could turn them on and start pumping water out of town, and knock those crests down,” Back said. “We have all the creeks and storm sewers dumping into downtown Findlay, which doesn’t help. It all accumulates.”
He said once outside of the city, the flow of the water would return to normal.
“We won’t be adding one drop of water,” Back said. “We’re just going to control the flow for about four miles.”
In June 2012, Mike Pniewski, the corps’ project manager for the Blanchard River plan, said computer modeling of flood plan alternatives was proving troublesome. He said the watershed’s topography is so flat that modeling wasn’t showing a big difference between potential flood-control projects.
During public meetings held in December 2012, the corps said its potential ideas included a western diversion channel around Findlay. Other ideas included having a large water-detention area near the Boy Scout camp south of Findlay, and building a levee to stop the flooding Blanchard River from overflowing into Lye Creek south of the Findlay reservoirs.
But the levee would cause the flood level to increase in three eastern Findlay neighborhoods by about 2.5 inches, the corps said.
Corps plans in Ottawa involved modifying the I-9 bridge embankment, and creating a diversion channel there.
In all, the corps’ flood study will cost about $9 million to complete, with the corps and the Hancock County commissioners splitting the bill.
Cost estimates for potential flood-control projects have ranged from $111 million to $200 million.
“The U.S. Corps of Engineers was called in back in 1950 and 1960 to stop the flood (in Findlay). If the problem had been an easy fix, they would have fixed it then,” Back said.
He said the corps’ idea today is to try to “squeeze out” storage space for floodwater.
“I think the reason the U.S. Corps is having such a problem and the cost is so high, is they are trying to protect downtown Findlay by adding storage capacity out in the county. There is not adequate elevation for this,” Back said. “I think the total cost of this flooding problem could be reduced by $100 million.”
Back said he has shared his plan with the Army Corps, but received little feedback.
“… The Corps of Engineers, with all of their research and millions of dollars spent, still will not say they can stop the flooding,” Back said.
“The U.S. Corps could install this horsepower concept to protect both Findlay and Ottawa, and then develop a very good system for Hancock County, based on elevation and storage,” he said.
Pniewski has said part of the corps’ planning would include public input, but so far, the only public meetings sponsored by the corps about flood-control plans were held in 2012.
On June 11 of this year, The Courier requested access to all public input gathered by the corps on the Blanchard River Flood Mitigation Project. There has been no response.
The corps is also ignoring The Courier’s request for a cost breakdown of the $9 million flood study.
Earlier this year, the corps did release 62 pages of budget figures to The Courier in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. It took the corps several months to respond to the newspaper’s initial request.
The budget uses several codes, making it impossible to analyze without further information.
In April, The Courier requested that the corps explain the codes in a manner that would allow for accurate reporting to the public. There has been no response.
Attempts to contact Pniewski for this story were unsuccessful.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a corrected version of this story.