EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of two stories about past flood-control plans in Findlay, and what happened to those proposals.
By J. STEVEN DILLON
When Findlay and Hancock County dropped the ball on flood control in the 1990s, after federal funding for a project dried up, it wasn’t the first time.
About 30 years earlier, Findlay City Council, and then the mayor, put the kibosh on another flood-control plan, and it died a slow death.
The driving force behind a 1962 flood plan was two major floods within a month of each other in the winter of 1959.
The first arrived on Jan. 22, the second just three weeks later, on Feb. 11. In the Blanchard River watershed’s history, the second flood of 1959 was only exceeded by the 1913, 2007, and 1981 floods.
That first 1959 flood was no slouch, either. It’s No. 7 on the all-time list.
Like it did after the 2007 flood, the Army Corps of Engineers studied the watershed in the early 1960s and came up with a $12.7 million plan to reduce flooding.
It was a most ambitious plan and would have drastically changed the landscape, particularly through Findlay. It was designed to protect the city from a flood level that would occur only once every 180 years.
The plan called for constructing a three-mile-long diversion channel between Eagle Creek and the Blanchard River.
The channel would not have tied into the Blanchard River west of Findlay, like the recent corps plan suggested.
Instead, it would have connected with Lye Creek to the east, to move water to the Blanchard, joining the river near the then-Kodak processing lab.
Massive dikes, or levees, would have been built along both sides of the river from the channel west, all the way to Interstate 75.
The dikes would have towered 20 feet above the Riverside Park dam, and would have been wide enough on top to build an access road.
Concrete walls would have been built in places where dikes were impractical, and some bends in the Blanchard would have been eliminated, such as the one between holes No. 8 and 9 at the Findlay Country Club.
The plan would have required the modification or replacement of several bridges, including the one at Main Street. That bridge would have been permanently elevated above the dikes, with new approaches built on each side.
A drawbridge was proposed for Cory Street.
There was great debate about the merits of the plan, the high cost, and who should have to pay.
Downtown merchants on both sides of the bridge feared an elevated bridge would cut off access to businesses.
Residents upstream feared the river would back up on their properties, and those downstream feared water would flow too fast through the city, and then flood their land.
More opposition came from those who would have had to pay property tax assessments if they directly benefited from the new flood protections.
The assessments would have generated about $3.2 million toward the project’s estimated cost of $12.7 million.
The city would have paid for acquiring the land for the project and for making bridge improvements. The Army Corps would have funded the rest.
The plan seemed doomed from the start.
In June 1962, Findlay City Council twice rejected an ordinance that would have authorized the corps to begin preparing the property tax assessments.
The next month, council endorsed the project, but then reversed that action in 1965, after the plan was reviewed by the U.S. Senate’s Subcommittee on Flood Control, Rivers and Harbors, but before it was authorized by Congress.
Later in 1965, council followed a suggestion by then Mayor John Sausser to have the corps suspend further action on the plan until another proposal could be studied.
The new idea was to construct water retention ponds south of Findlay to control floods, conserve water and provide recreation areas.
That concept was never developed, however, and flood control was pushed to the back burner.
The economic impact of the 1965 decision did not hit home until June 14, 1981, when the watershed was once again hit by a major flood.
The corps estimated after that flood that 90 percent of the $13 million in flood damage would likely not have occurred had the 1962 project been completed.
Some discussion followed the 1981 flood about revisiting the 1962 plan.
In a June 1981 story by reporter Bob Sterner in The Courier, then city Engineer David Metzker said the price tag of the plan could have easily risen to $40 million in the 20 years since it was first proposed.
Then Mayor W. Bentley Burr said the city would probably review the 1962 plan again, but admitted he didn’t think people would be “too enthused when it comes to paying for it.”
Burr, history shows, was right. That plan never resurfaced.