DEFIANCE — The Maumee Watershed Conservancy District has agreed to proceed with preliminary engineering work on a plan to improve the Blanchard River channel through Findlay in order to reduce flooding in the city.

The conservancy district’s board met in regular session Tuesday in Defiance.

The channel improvements have been recommended by the Stantec engineering firm, which was hired by the Hancock County commissioners last year.

Soil borings and surveys are needed along the length of the river to be improved. The preliminary engineering work will cost about $265,000. The Hancock County commissioners agreed to pay that bill on March 14, bringing the total paid to Stantec to about $1.26 million so far.

Adam Hoff, a principal with Stantec, was hesitant Tuesday to estimate a completion date for the channel improvements. He said most likely in late 2018, with final restoration of the area done by mid-2019.

As for Stantec’s other flood-control recommendations, Hoff said, “We got a long road ahead of us.”

Last month, Stantec recommended the channel improvements, plus construction of dams upstream of Findlay to create large “dry storage” basins for floodwater. The basins would be along the Blanchard River, along Eagle Creek, and along a tributary of the river known as Potato Run, just south of Mount Blanchard.

Nineteen homes would be subject to buyouts to allow for construction of the proposed water storage basins.

Stantec was hired by the commissioners last year to evaluate the Army Corps of Engineers’ flood-control plan. The firm, headquartered in Canada, employs a workforce of about 300 in Ohio, with offices in Toledo, Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland.

At a public meeting Feb. 22, Stantec said it would not recommend the corps’ proposed Eagle Creek diversion channel. However, that channel, with some modifications, is still a possibility. Public meetings on the final Stantec recommendations are expected to be held in April.

Lynn Army, general manager of the conservancy district, said Tuesday the engineering firm’s recommendation is “a lot to chew on, including a whole lot of money.”

In all, the Stantec plan would cost an estimated $160 million, twice the cost of the Army Corps’ proposed diversion channel.

Altogether, the changes could drop the Blanchard River’s level by about 3.6 feet on Main Street during a 100-year flood, according to Stantec.

On Tuesday, conservancy district board members began to question when Hancock County’s pool of money for flood mitigation, a sales tax, expires.

Earlier this month, the county commissioners said they will ask voters to renew a half-percent, 10-year sales tax that provides millions for flood control.

The tax, which expires in 2018, generates about $5 million each year. Half the tax revenue is used to support the county’s flood fund, and the other half is used for county operations.

The commissioners said that division of revenue will continue if the tax is renewed.

Part of Stantec’s work will be to identify other funding sources for its plan, beyond the sales tax.

Steve Wilson, project manager, said Tuesday the county has enough money in the fund to pay for improvements to the river channel. The fund has been used over the past eight years to pay for the corps’ study and to purchase flood-prone properties.

Improving the river channel through Findlay would cost about $20 million, Stantec said. The bulk of that expense, about $18.8 million, would be spent to cut “benches” into the river’s banks, and to widen the supports of the Norfolk Southern railroad bridge as it crosses the river.

Benches would be cut into about 2,000 feet of the Blanchard River banks between the railroad bridge and Broad Avenue. The benches would widen the river and increase its capacity.

Officials must still negotiate with the railroad about modification or replacement of its bridge, which is about 90 years old.

Stantec said improvements to the river alone would drop the river’s level by about 1 foot on Main Street during a 100-year flood.

When Stantec completes its final recommendations, the conservancy district will be tasked with approving Stantec’s final plan and making a recommendation to the Maumee Watershed Conservancy Court.

The court, which oversees the conservancy district, comprises common pleas court judges representing the 15 counties affected by the Maumee River. Its annual meeting is scheduled for May 5.

The conservancy district is only expected to ask the court for permission to begin the work to improve the river channel in Findlay. The basin plans are likely to be presented to the judges for further review.

On Tuesday, Army said the river improvements in Findlay “are believed” to already be part of the conservancy district’s approved plans for work in the watershed.

The benches were first proposed by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 1992 in an effort to curb city flooding, and were approved by the conservancy court.

The conservation service is the primary federal agency that works with landowners to help with the conservation, maintenance and improvement of their natural resources.

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