By DENISE GRANT
Putnam County officials are considering pulling out of the Blanchard River flood study due to frustrations with the Army Corps of Engineers.
On Monday, a source close to the situation called it a “distinct possibility.”
Over the years, the design of the I-9 bridge in Ottawa has been blamed for increasing the severity of flooding in the village.
The corps has been asked to provide “statistical hard data” showing how the bridge affects flooding, but so far, the request has been ignored, according to the source.
“It seems no one at the corps wants to show their hand in this issue,” said the source. “We wonder why the corps has been so secretive in this matter.”
Because of the lack of data about the bridge and flooding, the Putnam County commissioners have yet to agree that the bridge needs to be altered.
“The Village of Ottawa wants to take immediate action on this matter, and wants the county’s endorsement, but county officials and seemingly the Ottawa Township trustees want evidence prior to the endorsement,” said the source. “Obviously, the floodwater dilemma is larger than the Village of Ottawa. County officials do not want to make matters worse.”
If Putnam County drops out of the flood study, it could then seek its own flood-control project with the corps, with a goal of getting work done sooner than 2016, when the study is expected to be done.
“Many folks around here, involved in the flood mitigation, feel they can’t wait,” the source said.
So far, Putnam County has contributed no money to pay for the study, which is expected to cost about $9 million to complete. Hancock County and the federal government have split the bill.
Hancock County sets aside about $2.5 million each year for flood mitigation from a half-percent, 10-year sales tax increase approved by county voters in 2009. Half 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.
A decision on whether to renew the sales tax will have to be made by 2018 or 2019.
Corps officials are expected to tour flood-prone areas of the Blanchard River watershed on Wednesday, and the I-9 bridge is to be one of the stops.
U.S. Rep. Bob Latta has invited Lt. Col. Karl Jansen, commander of the corps’ Buffalo division, to visit sites in both Putnam and Hancock counties.
The tour is not open to the public.
“The continued advancement of the Blanchard River Flood Risk Management Project is critical to the safety and economic growth of our area,” Latta said. “I have been pleased with the corps’ willingness to work with us to ensure this project moves forward in an expedited manner.”
Jansen said it is important to finish the study “with a sense of urgency and sound engineering.”
While the I-9 bridge in Ottawa has been blamed for increasing the severity of flooding in the village, architects of the bridge defended its design as early as 2008.
In a letter written to Terrence Recker, Putnam County engineer, Daniel Bucher, president of Kohli & Kaliher Associates, Lima, said the structure was designed to allow a 100-year flood to pass underneath the bridge without creating backwater.
“When the Road I-9 bridge over the Blanchard River was designed, there was a great deal of thought and analysis given to the effect of the proposed approach roadway and bridge on the high water elevations of the Blanchard River, both upstream and downstream of the subject bridge,” Bucher wrote.