By DENISE GRANT
Work may start this summer on a flood-control plan for the Blanchard River at Findlay. The plan has been on the books since 1992, but never has been undertaken.
The Maumee Watershed Conservancy District board, in Defiance, voted Tuesday to proceed with improvements to the river channel as it flows through Findlay.
The conservancy district also announced that three public meetings will be held on the full Blanchard River plan, which contains other flood-control proposals.
The first will be at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Riverdale High School. Another will be at 6 p.m. next Wednesday at the Hancock County Engineer’s Office maintenance garage, 1900 Lima Ave. A third meeting, to be held in Findlay, has not yet been scheduled.
Conservancy district officials believe channel improvements in Findlay, recommended by the Stantec engineering firm in February, are similar to a project that was incorporated into the conservancy district’s “official plan” in 1992. Officials say the two plans are close enough that Stantec’s river modification project can bypass the lengthy process of being added to the conservancy district’s official plan.
The 1992 plan only recently become a focal point in the Findlay flood-control effort.
There was no mention of the 1992 plan in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ lengthy flood-control study, or the more recent Stantec recommendation.
The projected cost of the 1992 plan was about $955,600. Findlay agreed to pay 28 percent of the bill, with the federal government paying the remainder. But the plan eventually lost its federal funding, and the project did not advance.
According to the 1992 study, the work would have reduced Findlay’s annual flood damage by about half, and would lower the water level by about one foot in downtown Findlay during a 100-year flood.
Lynn Army, general manager of the conservancy district, said Tuesday that since the 1992 plan was “rejected” by Findlay, it was not mentioned again until now. He said the 1992 plan does need to be updated.
Findlay/Hancock County officials first approached the Maumee Watershed Conservancy District for help after the flood of August 2007 caused $60 million in damage in the Findlay area alone.
In 2010, after a failed attempt to establish a conservancy district for the Blanchard River watershed, local officials asked the Maumee Watershed Conservancy District to take over flood-control planning in Findlay and Hancock County. The conservancy district refused, saying Findlay/Hancock County needed to develop a plan and fund it before the district would become involved.
“They were already talking about working with the Army Corps and that’s the direction they needed to go,” Army said Tuesday.
The Army Corps spent years and millions of dollars working on a flood-control study for Hancock County. Last year, the Hancock County commissioners hired Stantec to evaluate the corps’ study. The engineering firm, headquartered in Canada, employs a workforce of about 300 in Ohio, with offices in Toledo, Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland.
In September, the conservancy district agreed to work with Stantec, and took over day-to-day management of the flood-control plan.
With Tuesday’s conservancy district board vote, it will now be up to the Maumee Watershed Conservancy Court to allow the Findlay river improvements to proceed, based on the 1992 work plan.
The court, which oversees the conservancy district, is comprised of common pleas court judges representing the 15 counties affected by the Maumee River. Its annual meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. May 5 at the Defiance County Courthouse, 221 Clinton St., Defiance.
Improving the river channel through Findlay would cost about $20 million, according to Stantec’s plan. The bulk of that expense, about $18.8 million, would be spent to cut “benches” into the river’s banks, and to widen the supports of the Norfolk Southern railroad bridge as it crosses the river.
Benches would be cut into about 2,000 feet of the Blanchard River’s banks between the railroad bridge and Broad Avenue. The benches would widen the river and increase its capacity.
Officials must still negotiate with the railroad about modification or replacement of its bridge, which is about 90 years old. The 1992 plan did not call for modifying the bridge.
Stantec’s recommendation also includes plans to remove four low dams from the river that were installed in the early 1900s, when the river was straightened, to pool water for aesthetics. This work would cost $1 million.
The dam at Riverside Park would be spared.
Like the 1992 study, Stantec said channel improvements at Findlay would drop the river’s level by about 1 foot on Main Street during a 100-year flood.
The Stantec recommendation also calls for construction of large “dry storage” basins for floodwater, upstream of Findlay. The basins would be along the Blanchard River, along Eagle Creek, and along a tributary of the river known as Potato Run, just south of Mount Blanchard.
The conservancy district board did not act on the basin proposal Tuesday.
In all, Stantec’s recommended plan would cost an estimated $160 million, twice the cost of the Army Corps’ proposed Eagle Creek diversion channel. At a public meeting Feb. 22, Stantec said it would not recommend the Army Corps’ proposed diversion channel. However, that channel, with some modifications, is still a possibility.
Also Tuesday, the conservancy board approved a bill from Stantec for $60,725, mostly charges for developing the company’s finalized plan. The Hancock County commissioners are paying Stantec’s bills out of the county’s flood fund. The new invoice brings the total amount paid to Stantec to about $1.32 million
Stantec’s 470-page report is available to the public online at www.hancockcountyflooding.com.
The river channel work in Findlay would also be paid for out of the county’s flood fund, which now holds about $18 million. The fund has been used over the past eight years to pay for half of the Army Corps’ $10 million study, and to purchase flood-prone properties.
The county’s half-percent, 10-year sales tax provides millions for flood control. The tax, which expires in 2018, generates about $7 million each year. Half the tax revenue is used to support the county’s flood fund, and the other half is used for county operations.
The county commissioners have said they will ask for a renewal of the tax.