EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the sixth in a seven-day series of stories that look back, and attempt to look forward, at the issue of flood control in Hancock and Putnam counties. The stories have been written in recognition of the 10-year anniversary of the disastrous flood of Aug. 22, 2007.
By KATHRYNE RUBRIGHT
Nearly 150 flood-prone homes and businesses in Findlay have been bought up and razed since the 2007 flood, but some proud holdouts do remain in the flood plain.
Rather than move, Findlay resident Mike Phillips has chosen to fortify his home against flooding.
“I thought I’d be an old codger and try to fight it,” he said.
His primary defense is a wall that encircles his Wilson Street home.
He calls it an “above-ground flower garden” to avoid running afoul of any city rules. And there are flowers in the dirt-filled space between the main 5-foot wall and a shorter, secondary wall.
His wall is made of stone, old concrete, bricks — anything, really, except for “that cookie-cutter rock you buy at the big box stores.”
The wall is not perfect. Phillips started building it after the 2007 flood, and water still flowed through it during July’s flood.
“See, the wall was an experiment. And experiments aren’t always guaranteed to work,” Phillips said.
He thinks the dirt needs to be more compact, so water can’t flow through it. So he’ll add more dirt — manure, actually, to comply with city rules — and he’ll keep making the wall higher.
“I can’t get 90 percent there and give up,” he said.
Phillips is doubtful about the ability of government to combat flooding, but optimistic about what citizens might be able to do on their own.
“I think (city officials) know they can’t do too much, because of regulations and endless studies,” Phillips said. “But they can’t tell people that, because it would have an impact on economic growth. And we want economic growth.”
But individuals can take bolder steps against flooding, through a combination of learning to live with flooding and being more creative than the government can be, he said.
He has a variety of suggestions, some more tongue-in-cheek than others, for the government and for fellow property owners.
Covering his house in life preservers, for example, would be an out-of-the-box, but impractical, unhelpful approach.
But maybe more sophisticated floating houses are possible. Phillips imagines a house tethered to a post at each corner, made to float, and built with “flexible fittings” for utilities.
“And when the waters come, the house will slowly go up,” he said.
The simpler version would be a houseboat, which Phillips also mentioned.
For traditional houses, he suggested cement floors, slightly angled with drains in the center.
His own floors are wooden, but he has started keeping belongings in totes and storing them on shelves at least two feet off the floor.
Phillips’ solutions are not limited to individual homes.
“Maybe we need volunteers to help remove some of the dirt from the bench areas,” he said, referring to the expected widening and removal of dirt along the Blanchard River in Findlay.
A hundred or more people could be organized via the internet, he said.
In a 2013 letter to the editor, Phillips wrote, “Volunteers should (since the city will not) dynamite the Riverside Park dam, Liberty Street dam, ripple dams, and the non-FEMA-certified levee at the old treatment plant, etc.”
That led to a visit from two FBI agents who asked him if he made bombs, Phillips said.
“I used to,” he told them, holding up a hand missing a finger, which he lost in a childhood accident that did not involve explosives.
“They don’t have any sense of humor,” Phillips said.
He doesn’t actually build bombs, but he doesn’t mind floating unconventional ideas, either.
Government officials “must know how to use Google,” Phillips said, but they don’t brainstorm solutions the way he does.
“After 10 years you would think the city people would all resign. I mean, 10 years and all these studies,” he said.
Snyder’s Auto Mart
Brian Snyder, who in April purchased Snyder’s Auto Mart from his father, can’t imagine a better location for the downtown car dealership.
“We’re in a fantastic location. We’re central to the city” and lots of traffic goes by, Snyder said. “We’ve established in everybody’s mind that Snyder’s is, you know, the place on the left as you’re going across the bridge,” he said.
So, moving the business that his father, John Snyder, started more than 40 years ago on North Main Street is the last thing Brian Snyder wants to do.
Instead, he has learned how to prepare for flooding, the one downside of his location.
“And we’ve gotten really good at it,” he said.
There’s always a group of people that shows up to help move cars when a flood is expected. It’s more a friendly occasion than a stressful one: “We’ll have pizza and maybe beers afterwards,” Snyder said.
It takes about an hour to move all the vehicles, most recently to the Domino’s Pizza parking lot farther north on Main Street. He has also parked at Lammers Outdoor Advertising and behind the Hancock County War Memorial.
“We’ve learned over time things to do or not do,” Snyder said. They know that “cans of gasoline and cans of oil float. And then they turn on their side. And trash cans also float and then they turn on their side.”
So they know how to avoid a mess of gasoline, oil and trash now. Desks in the office are steel, not wood.
As for the government approach to flood reduction, “I don’t really care if they fix it or not,” Snyder said.
Flooding is something to be expected in a city on a river, he said.
There is “some measure that humans are capable of, if we wanted to employ it,” he said. “But I don’t know that we necessarily do, for the amount of disruption” it would cause.
SATURDAY: About 150 flood-prone structures, both homes and businesses, have been removed from the flood plain in Findlay since August 2007. Graphics on Page A1 will show the location and cost of the properties that have been purchased and razed. Plus, a full-page graphic on Page A3 will show the enormous overall cost of the 2007 flood.