By DENISE GRANT
Hancock County may have a flood-reduction project ready for bid by March.
The Stantec engineering firm gave a tentative timeline at Tuesday’s meeting of the Maumee Watershed Conservancy District board. The board, which met at the Hancock County Engineer’s Office, typically meets at its office in Defiance.
Stantec estimates it will cost about $650,000 to ready the first phase of the project for bid. The conservancy district board accepted the estimate and approved an agreement with the Hancock County commissioners to proceed.
Planning will only be done for removal or modification of ripple dams, and cutting benches into the river bank in Findlay to widen it and increase capacity.
About 20 people attended the meeting. Following the meeting, board members were given a tour of the river in downtown Findlay by Steve Wilson, former Hancock County engineer.
Wilson now serves as a project manager for the conservancy district in both Hancock and Putnam counties.
The conservancy district faced no opposition to plans for the river improvements on Tuesday, but one Mount Blanchard property owner did challenge Stantec’s other flood-control recommendation — for several storage basins for floodwater.
Improvements to the river in Findlay are the only part of the project approved by the Maumee Watershed Conservancy Court, which oversees the conservancy district.
That work will reduce Blanchard River flooding by widening a portion of the river in Findlay, widening the river beneath a railroad bridge, and removing or modifying the low dams.
Initial planning will not include the railroad bridge. Negotiations with the Norfolk Southern Railway of Norfolk, Virginia, are just beginning, officials said.
Modifications to the river in Findlay will be paid for out of Hancock County’s flood fund, which now holds about $18 million. The work will likely be done over the next three years.
Stantec has said the Findlay river improvements alone will drop flood levels about 1 foot in downtown Findlay during a 100-year flood.
Last year, the Hancock County commissioners hired the Stantec engineering firm to evaluate the Army Corps of Engineers’ flood-control study. The engineering firm, headquartered in Canada, employs a workforce of about 300 in Ohio.
In addition to improving the river channel as it flows through Findlay, Stantec has recommended building dams upstream of Findlay to create large “dry storage” basins for floodwater along the Blanchard River, along Eagle Creek, and along a tributary of the river known as Potato Run, just south of Mount Blanchard.
The basin proposal has not yet been considered by the Maumee Watershed Conservancy Court. It would cost about $140 million to construct all three of Stantec’s proposed basins. The basins, along with $20 million in proposed improvements to the Blanchard River as it flows through Findlay, would cost a total of about $160 million.
The total plan would drop flood levels about 3.6 feet on Findlay’s Main Street during a 100-year flood, according to Stantec.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Ginger Sampson, 44, of 15939 Township Road 173, said she supports work on the river, but called the proposed storage basins “an attempt to relocate flooding.”
Sampson is deputy auditor for the City of Findlay.
She said her family represents the fifth generation of landowners and farmers in the proposed Mount Blanchard dam areas.
“This is not only part of our family tradition, but a great portion of our livelihood,” she said.
Sampson said the land farmed by her family is not in the flood plain.
“But with the proposed dam structures, several large chunks of our land will now be inundated with water. And, parts of the dam structures will actually be on some of our land and prevent access to other parts of it,” she said.
She also expressed concern that dam culverts, designed to slowly release floodwater back into the river after a flood, could become plugged.
“Currently, the Blanchard River has multiple logjams that are not able to be removed safely,” Sampson said. “If during a flood situation, the culverts on these man-made high-hazard dams get plugged (and they will get plugged), how long will it take to get these cleared, and in the meantime, how much land will be ruined, or houses and lives lost?” she said.
She said the south end of Mount Blanchard is at the same elevation as John Hancock’s head on the top of the Hancock County Courthouse in downtown Findlay.
“If these high-hazard dams fail because of a buildup of pressure from water trying to go downhill, there will be additional loss of life and homes north of the dams in the village,” she said.
State law would require the dams to be equipped with emergency spillways, should the basins reach capacity.