By DENISE GRANT
Most of the work on the Blanchard River flood study is being done by Army Corps of Engineers personnel.
According to budget figures released last week by the corps, 64 percent of the $5.9 million already spent on the study has been for Army Corps labor.
Corps labor amounts to about $3.7 million.
About $40,000 has been spent on travel expenses for Army Corps personnel, budget figures show.
Andrew Kornacki, public affairs specialist for the corps’ Buffalo District, explained that development of the study requires the work of personnel with a wide range of skill sets.
Planning personnel from the Buffalo District work to develop, analyze and screen ideas. Hydraulic engineers work to develop models of the watershed. Geotechnical engineers are needed to perform surveys and analyses. Environmental personnel must perform surveys and analyze plans for environmental impact. Economics experts work to determine the monetary benefits of flood-control ideas. Real estate personnel determine the cost and the impact to utilities.
District personnel are also needed to determine the scope of work for field investigations, work with contractors and evaluate and confirm results. The district must also coordinate with other agencies, including both the state and federal Environmental Protection Agency, and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
The entire project requires management.
Contract labor is the next highest expense listed by the corps, accounting for 36 percent of the budget, or about $2.1 million.
The corps is still being assisted by URS Corp., a Cleveland engineering firm. URS is overseeing the environmental review, which is the last stage of the study. The company provides technical and planning assistance in developing flood-risk management ideas.
The firm was first hired by the Hancock County commissioners in 2011 to finish the first phase of the flood study after federal funding ran out and work stopped.
URS is assisting in the development of the corps’ plan, economic modeling, environmental field surveys, site assessments, architectural and archaeological field surveys, schematic designs of flood plans, and cost estimates.
Kornacki said other government agencies are being contracted to provide analyses for the study, including a contract with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey.
An outside engineering organization will also have to be hired to perform an independent “external peer review” of the project’s reports.
“Delivering the most efficient, economical and environmentally acceptable flood risk management solution for the Blanchard River communities is our highest priority. Completing this effort involves travel, labor and contract expenditures, all of which are in line with a flood mitigation project of the magnitude presented by the Blanchard River Watershed Study,” said Lt. Col. Karl Jansen, new commander of the Buffalo District.
“It takes a team of highly-skilled individuals to apply sound engineering principles and manage the many tasks needed to complete the study and get it to a chief’s report,” he said.
Jansen visited the watershed earlier this month at the invitation of U.S. Rep. Robert Latta, R-Bowling Green. Jansen replaces Lt. Col. Owen Beaudoin, who was removed from the Buffalo District position in May for reasons involving personal misconduct, according to the corps.
“I would like to thank Congressman Latta for inviting me to tour the affected areas of the Blanchard River watershed, and the local officials for providing me with firsthand information of the flooding events. I would also like to thank the members of the public who came out and expressed their concerns to me,” Jansen said. “To everyone involved with the study I would like to say, ‘I hear you.'”
“I will be working with the Blanchard River Watershed Study team to communicate more often where we are with the study, as well as incorporating all of the public comments we have received to date, as we continue to move the study toward completion,” he said.
In all, the flood study is expected to cost about $9 million, with the corps and the Hancock County commissioners splitting the bill.
A final Army Corps flood-control plan for the Blanchard River, in the form of a “chief’s report,” is expected in March 2016. It would then be submitted to Congress in an attempt to gain up to 65 percent federal funding for construction.
Cost estimates for potential flood-control projects have ranged from $111 million to $200 million.
About $2.5 million a year is set aside for flood mitigation by the Hancock County commissioners from a half-percent, 10-year sales tax increase approved by county voters in 2009. Half of the tax revenue is used for flood control, the other half for county operations. Findlay also contributed $1.8 million toward the flood fund.
The Courier first requested the corps’ flood study budget numbers in July 2013. After back-and-forth discussions about the heavy use of coding in the budget documents, the corps agreed to provide a breakdown of the flood study budget earlier this month.