By DENISE GRANT
DEFIANCE — The Maumee Watershed Conservancy District, Defiance, agreed Tuesday to seek bids to clear trees and brush from about 15 acres along the Blanchard River in Findlay, as part of its planned flood-control project in the city.
The conservancy district board voted to seek bids during its regular meeting Tuesday.
The Blanchard will be widened, with “benches” cut into the river banks for about 2,000 feet between the Norfolk Southern railroad bridge and Broad Avenue, as part of the effort to reduce flooding in Findlay.
The benches are meant to widen the river and increase its capacity. Once complete, these improvements to the river are expected to reduce flooding on Main Street by about 1 foot during a 100-year storm.
Almost all of the property to be cleared belongs to the City of Findlay. Only one private property owner will be affected by the land clearing. Steve Wilson, project manager for the conservancy district, said the property owner has been notified of the project and negotiations are ongoing.
Adam Hoff, a principal with the Stantec engineering firm, said the trees must be cleared by March 31 to meet a deadline set by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to protect wildlife, including the endangered Indiana brown bat, during nesting season.
Hoff said getting the work completed by early spring will also allow benching work to begin during the summer. If the clearing work misses the March 31 deadline, the EPA would then bar clear-cutting the property until October.
Trees will be cut to one foot above grade, with the stumps and roots left in place to help with soil retention, Hoff said. Bulldozers, which will be digging as far down as 7 to 9 feet during the benching work, will then remove the stumps and roots of the trees once that work begins, mostly likely in June.
The entire area will be re-planted with appropriate vegetation once the landscaping is completed, Hoff said.
The river improvements are expected to include removal of four low dams from the river that were installed in the early 1900s, when the river was straightened, to pool water for aesthetic reasons. The dam at Riverside Park will be spared.
Plans also call for widening the supports of the railroad bridge as it crosses the river. The railroad bridge is about 90 years old. However, Hoff said Tuesday that Norfolk Southern is not responding to requests to discuss the project.
The entire project, including modification of the bridge, is expected to cost about $20 million, which will be paid for out of the county’s flood fund.
Hoff said Stantec is also continuing a review of its recommendation that three large floodwater storage basins be built in southern Hancock County, a project that could cost about $140 million. The basin idea has met with strong public opposition.
In August, the conservancy district asked Stantec to review its recommendations, and in September, the Hancock County commissioners agreed to pay for the review at a cost of $375,000.
A draft of the revisions will be completed by April, with the final report due in June. The goal is to finish the report in time to present it to the Maumee Watershed Conservancy Court at its regular meeting in June.
However, Wilson has said it is unlikely the court will immediately act on the recommendations.
The court, which oversees the conservancy district, is comprised of common pleas court judges representing the 15 counties affected by the Maumee River.
Conservancy officials on Tuesday also briefly discussed a Putnam County flood-control project.
The conservancy district’s attempt to acquire two properties in Putnam County through eminent domain action, for a proposed diversion channel near Ottawa, has met with litigation.
The proposed $5 million, 4,000-foot diversion channel on Ottawa’s northwestern side is much smaller than a 9.4-mile Eagle Creek diversion channel that was proposed in Hancock County by the Army Corps of Engineers. Other than utility easements, the Putnam diversion channel affects only two property owners.
The project has been tied up in litigation since the fall of 2016. Through a series of motions and appeals, the landowners have claimed the conservancy district failed to follow state law governing eminent domain action, and has no right to claim the ground.
Under Ohio law, the conservancy district has the authority of eminent domain, which means it can take property from landowners for a public use. Landowners must be paid a fair price for the property taken.
The district can also levy property tax assessments to pay for flood-control work.
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