Many things must happen within a tight window for the Blanchard River flood-control project to be completed within five years.
For one, the public needs to be kept in the loop.
On Tuesday, what can be described as radical changes, particularly regarding project funding, were announced.
While the idea of selling diversion channel dirt to the state seems to make sense, the news caught most people off guard.
It also raises questions about the lack of transparency.
The plans still call for a 9.4-mile channel to be dug to divert Eagle Creek floodwaters around the west side of Findlay, but they would appear to eliminate federal money from the funding.
The we’re-going-it-alone scenario unfolded after the Army Corps of Engineers advised city and county officials, in early February, that its study of the watershed, due last year, wouldn’t be completed until later this year.
At the same time, the corps jacked up the cost of the project from $60 million to $80 million. That could put the cost-benefit at, or below, 1-to-1, meaning the project would be unlikely to qualify for federal funding.
Had this been announced to the public sooner, perhaps Tuesday’s news may have been easier to digest.
The latest time line allows for the diversion channel to be done by February 2021. But it requires much to happen over the next 14 months, including engineering and design, the handoff of the project to the Maumee Conservancy District, and land acquisition for the diversion channel.
Meanwhile, funding would remain uncertain. Without federal funding, which could have been 65 percent, officials will seek help from the state, and will likely need continued help from taxpayers.
City and county voters approved a half-percent sales tax increase in 2009 with half of the tax going toward flood control. The money has been used to pay for part of the flood study, to acquire flood-prone properties and to clean the river. There is about $16 million in the bank.
But the tax will expire in 2019, and will presumably have to be renewed to help pay for construction.
The latest plan ties the flood-control project to highway reconstruction. It calls for the Ohio Department of Transportation to use the dirt excavated from the channel in its makeover of the Interstate 75/Ohio 15/U.S. 68 interchanges. The dirt could save up to $14 million on the channel’s construction cost.
The deal would seemingly benefit both the county and state. But will the timing be right?
For almost nine years, this area has been waiting patiently for a project that would ease flooding. Clearly, public support remains critical for the plan to move forward.
The diversion channel is still not universally accepted, nor will it ever be. But both the people whose property and livelihoods will be impacted by the project, and those who will pay for it, deserve to be part of the conversation.
Officials must strive for greater transparency as the project evolves. Have we learned nothing?
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