By DENISE GRANT
Findlay residents who had property damaged in last week’s flood are being encouraged to contact the mayor’s office.
Mayor Lydia Mihalik told City Council on Tuesday that assessment teams from the city, the Hancock County Emergency Management Agency, and the State of Ohio are canvassing the city to document damage. However, Mihalik said there is concern that some of the damage could still be missed.
Severe flash flooding caused damage to be scattered throughout the city, not just in the flood plain.
Mihalik said it is important that all damage be included in the assessments so it can be reported to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and to the state in an attempt to gain federal and state assistance for city residents impacted by the flood.
The mayor’s office may be contacted by calling 419-424-7137, or by email at Mayor@FindlayOhio.com.
Initial damage assessments conducted by the American Red Cross over the weekend listed three East High Street residences at 512, 520 and 526 High St. as destroyed. They are all mobile homes. A house at 519 E. High St. had major damage.
At least six other homes were identified as having major damage, including: 532 Cross Ave.; 739 Howard St.; 1421 Morrical Blvd.; 1514 and 1526 West-View Drive; and 1915 East-View Drive.
About 100 more homes and businesses sustained minor damage or were affected by the flood in some way.
The Blanchard River at Findlay crested Friday afternoon at 16.5 feet. The river dropped below minor flood stage, which is 11 feet, by Sunday afternoon.
The threshold for federal aid is at least 25 structures destroyed. Those structures must also be uninsured.
Mihalik said flood debris pickup in Findlay began as promised Tuesday, starting in neighborhoods hardest hit by the river flooding, along East-View and West-View drives, plus west of Main Street and north of Trenton Avenue.
She said it may take until Friday or later for city crews to remove all the debris from city streets.
Mihalik and her administration were commended Tuesday by council members for being visible and communicating needed information to residents during the flood.
In other business Tuesday, council continued to struggle in its attempts to settle an ongoing dispute between Hancock-Wood Electric Cooperative and American Electric Power.
City legislation to protect Hancock-Wood’s service territory was reintroduced Tuesday, but an attempt to hurry its passage failed.
George Walton, president and CEO of Hancock-Wood, has said AEP is “cherry-picking” large commercial customers from Hancock-Wood’s service territory.
Over the past year, AEP has signed contracts with both Rowmark, 2040 Industrial Drive, and the planned Campbell Soup Supply Co. warehouse. The warehouse, located south of Hancock County 212 and the McLane Co. distribution center, is expected to open summer 2018.
Tim Wells, manager of economic and business development for AEP, has said both of those companies were more interested in working with AEP. He said once the industrial sites were annexed into Findlay, AEP’s citywide franchise agreement with the city gave it the right to service those industries, despite Hancock-Wood’s territorial boundaries.
Wells has also said that AEP actively marketed the warehouse site to potential businesses as part of the city’s economic development strategy.
In a letter to council, Duane E. Jebbett, Rowmark president and CEO, said AEP offered the company a better deal.
“When we spoke with Hancock-Wood Electric Cooperative, we were told that we would be charged an installation fee of more than $100,000 to run power to our new building. … Since our new facility is right on the border of these two suppliers, we asked to work with AEP because their installation costs were less than $10,000,” Jebbett said. “In addition to being far less costly for installation, they had been a good, reliable supplier … We simply made the best decision for our company with the facts we had at the time.”
Walton has argued that for the past 30 years, the two electric companies would agree to exchange service territories through “swaps.” But when Hancock-Wood refused an offer AEP made to swap a territory in North Baltimore for the Campbell Soup warehouse site, Walton said AEP took the Campbell contract anyway.
Hancock-Wood has invested about $23.6 million in infrastructure to serve its territory on Findlay’s east side, Walton said, believing its territorial boundaries would be honored. Should AEP be allowed to continue to pick off the best industrial sites in that territory, it will put a financial strain on the cooperative, Walton said.
Asked for her opinion on the issue Tuesday, Mayor Mihalik said Hancock-Wood is attempting to create a monopoly within its service territory, and she believes allowing the companies to compete is in the best interest of the city.
Walton has accused the Findlay-Hancock County Alliance of helping AEP acquire large commercial customers from Hancock-Wood’s service territory.
Walton said Tuesday he has been contacted by the Alliance, which is seeking to improve its working relationship with the cooperative. Hancock-Wood is a member of the Alliance, and AEP is not.
In a letter to council dated July 18, John Haywood, president of the Findlay-Hancock Alliance, cited its policy of not making “recommendations of products, services, companies and the like,” due to the competitive nature of the businesses it serves. However, he said, when someone inquires about a product or service, it is the Alliance’s policy to give the names of members before non-members.
Walton wants Findlay Council to pass legislation that would help protect the cooperative’s service territory. Walton said having council’s intentions known will help the cooperative better argue its case before the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.
Last year, council sent a letter to AEP asking the company to abide by service territory rules, but no formal legislation was passed.
This year, council failed to pass legislation protecting Hancock-Wood’s service territory at its July 5 meeting. The ordinance was then reintroduced, and an attempt to hurry its passage on Tuesday failed by a 5-5 vote.
Councilman Tom Klein, R-4, made a motion to suspend council’s rules requiring three separate readings, and to vote on the legislation as an emergency. Councilman Dennis Hellman, R-2, seconded.
Council members voting in opposition to suspending the rules were Holly Frische, R-1, Jim Niemeyer, R-6, Grant Russel, R-At-Large, Tim Watson, R-7, and Jeff Wobser, R-At-Large.
Much of the debate Tuesday focused on the drafting of a new letter, endorsed by council, that would be sent to the utilities.
Attempts by Frische to force a vote on a new letter and a resolution supporting the letter were thwarted by council members, who objected to receiving the letter just prior to their meeting.
Frische sent the new draft at about noon Tuesday, she said.