By DENISE GRANT
DEFIANCE — Work on flood-control improvements to the Blanchard River in Findlay will begin Monday. However, any action on more controversial floodwater storage basins is still more than a year away.
The Maumee Watershed Conservancy District, which is in charge of flood-control projects in Hancock and Putnam counties, met in regular session Tuesday and received updates on both Hancock County projects, along with efforts in Putnam County to begin construction on a diversion channel on the west side of town.
In Findlay, crews are expected to be on site Monday to begin clearing trees from about 12.5 acres of land along the river to allow for widening of the river.
According to its contract, H&H Land Clearing of Middlefield has just two weeks to clear the site of trees suitable for roosting by the endangered Indiana brown bat before the nesting season begins. The deadline set by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is April 15.
Adam Hoff, a principal engineer with the Stantec engineering firm, said the contractors believe they can get the work done by March 31. H&H Land Clearing was awarded a $105,000 contract to clear the trees in January. Hoff said getting necessary permits delayed the work until now.
Should the company miss the EPA’s deadline, work to clear the trees would be halted until October, at the end of the bat’s nesting season.
On Tuesday, Steve Wilson, project manager for the conservancy district, said the goal is to seek bids for the river widening work this summer, with work to begin by late summer.
The Blanchard River will be widened by cutting “benches” into the riverbank for about 3,500 feet between the Norfolk Southern railroad bridge and Broad Avenue. The benches are meant to increase the river’s capacity.
Once complete, the improvements to the river are expected to reduce the height of 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.
The entire project will cost an estimated $12.1 million. It is expected to remove about 600 parcels from the flood plain in Findlay and make travel easier during a flood.
Hoff said Tuesday that Stantec is still working to develop its “proof of concept” report on the recommended floodwater storage basins. The company has proposed constructing three large floodwater basins in southern Hancock County, in addition to widening the river in Findlay.
The basins would cost about $140 million to construct.
The report will not be ready by the May 4 annual meeting of the Maumee Watershed Conservancy District Court. The court, which includes common pleas judges from all 15 counties served by the conservancy district, would have to approve any further projects in Hancock County before work could proceed.
Last August, the conservancy district asked Stantec to review its recommendations using a new rainfall model, which more closely reflects a modern trend toward frequent and severe flooding in northwestern Ohio.
According to Stantec, the re-evaluation will provide additional information for planning, and will include refined flood maps and an updated benefit-to-cost ratio for its proposals.
The Canadian-based engineering firm is being paid $375,000 to review its plan, with the money coming from Hancock County’s flood fund.
On Tuesday, Clark Lynn Army, the conservancy district’s general manager, said a completed draft of the district’s annual report to the court, which will be delivered in May, makes no mention of the proposed floodwater basins.
Blanchard River Watershed Solutions, a group that includes business, government and professionals, and Hancock United for a Better Blanchard, a group that includes mainly rural residents, are expected to offer ideas on how to mitigate flood damage in Findlay, short of a large and expensive project like the basins.
The groups favor doing more clearing work along the river, using natural basins along the river for water storage, and other smaller, less-costly projects like elevating streets.
The conservancy district’s diversion channel project in Ottawa, part of its flood-control efforts in Putnam County, is still tied up in court.
The project has been in litigation since the fall of 2016. Through a series of motions and appeals, landowners claimed the conservancy district failed to follow state law governing eminent domain actions, and had no right to claim the ground.
However, a higher court found the conservancy district followed the rules, and the case has been returned to Putnam County Common Pleas Court, where a pretrial hearing is scheduled April 13.
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 two property owners.
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.