By DENISE GRANT
OTTAWA — Ottawa officials said Tuesday they plan to move forward with flood-control construction in their part of the Blanchard River watershed, using state money to fund the work.
Jason Phillips, Ottawa’s assistant municipal director, said details of the Army Corps of Engineers’ flood-control plans for the lower Blanchard River should be available in a few months.
The design of the I-9 bridge in Putnam County has been blamed for increasing the severity of flooding in Ottawa. The Army Corps’ estimated $8 million flood-control project would modify the approach to the I-9 bridge, create a diversion channel, and establish an ecosystem restoration area on the west side of Ottawa.
The project would also include buying out or raising several Putnam County homes and other structures in the flood plain.
Ottawa Mayor Dean Meyer said once the corps’ plans are completed, the project will most likely be handed over to the Maumee Valley Conservancy District, which has the authority to complete construction.
Ottawa officials have asked the Putnam County commissioners to support the Army Corps’ plans, but the commissioners say they are concerned about modifying the approach to the I-9 bridge, and have refused to endorse the project.
Meyer said a lack of support from the commissioners isn’t a deal-breaker.
“I don’t know how the commissioners can pull out of something they never have been a part of,” Meyer said of reports this week that the Putnam County commissioners may drop out of the Blanchard River flood-control study.
So far, Putnam County has contributed no money to pay for the flood study, which is expected to cost about $9 million to complete. Hancock County and the federal government have split the bill.
The commissioners say the corps’ plans for the I-9 bridge worry them.
When the I-9 bridge was replaced in 1996, county officials said, it was elevated to better protect the route from high water.
In a statement Tuesday, Putnam County Engineer Terrence Recker said the bridge was constructed to stay dry during a 100-year flood. Recker said the proposed approach modifications would allow the bridge to flood during a two-year flood event.
Putnam County Commissioner Vince Schroeder said 1,400 cars a day use the bridge. It is also used by both fire and emergency medical personnel going north from Glandorf.
“We support Ottawa in wanting to protect the property and citizens of Ottawa from flooding, but there are other interests in the county to consider,” Schroeder said. “What about the people of Glandorf and Ottawa Township? We need to get everyone on board.”
Schroeder said so far, no one has been able to provide scientific data that proves the bridge is creating a flooding problem for Ottawa.
“We are concerned about the accuracy of the elevations used in the (corps’) modeling,” Recker said. “It would be irresponsible of the county engineer to support creating a hazard within a public roadway based on hearsay and invalid studies or models.”
Instead, Recker suggested building another bridge about 700 feet north of the existing bridge, with an opening large enough that it won’t create backwater. The road elevation could then be raised to clear a 50-year flood event.
He said embankments should also be built in Ottawa to function like a canal, and keep high water from flooding the village.
“Containing the floodwater, in combination with raising three bridge approaches throughout the county, would limit the number of flooding events that allow water to flow onto or over public roads and keep mobility maximized in Ottawa and throughout the county, thus providing real efforts to reduce the loss of life and property,” Recker said.
Phillips, Ottawa’s assistant municipal director, said the corps does have data to support all components of the project, but it must still be finalized before being released to the public.
On Tuesday, both Hancock County Commissioner Brian Robertson and Tony Iriti, past president of the Northwestern Ohio Flood Mitigation Partnership, said having the Ottawa portion of the flood construction finished sooner can only benefit Hancock County.
“They would start down river (in Ottawa) and work this way anyhow,” Robertson said.
Iriti explained that since construction in the Ottawa area is expected to cost less than $10 million, the Army Corps can authorize that part of the project to proceed without congressional approval.
Construction in the Findlay area could top $100 million, and funding will require approval by Congress. The flood study should be completed in 2016, at which time it will be presented to Congress.
Having the lower Blanchard River project finished or at least well underway by 2016 would mean work could start in Hancock County sooner.
Corps officials are expected to tour flood-prone areas of the Blanchard River watershed today, and the I-9 bridge will be one of the stops.
U.S. Rep. Robert Latta, R-Bowling Green, invited Lt. Col. Karl Jansen, commander of the corps’ Buffalo division, to visit sites in both Putnam and Hancock counties.
The public is invited to join today’s tour, according to Sarah Criser, Latta’s communications director.
Those wishing to take part in the Findlay portion of the tour should meet in the main lobby of the Findlay Municipal Building, 318 Dorney Plaza, no later than 2:45 p.m. today. Those wishing to take part in the Ottawa portion of the tour should meet at the north end of the Putnam County I-9 bridge no later than 5 p.m.