By DENISE GRANT
DEFIANCE — The Maumee Watershed Conservancy District, Defiance, on Tuesday awarded a $105,000 contract to a Middlefield company to clear trees and brush from about 15 acres along the Blanchard River in Findlay, as part of a planned flood-control project in the city.
The conservancy district board awarded the contract during its regular meeting Tuesday.
The Hancock County commissioners also agreed to the contract Tuesday, and Findlay City Council gave the conservancy district access to city-owned properties along the river.
The contract went to H&H Land Clearing, a company that has been hired in the past by the Hancock Soil and Water Conservation District to pull logjams from the river. The company was one of four to bid on the project, which had been estimated at $150,000.
The work is expected to start as soon as possible. Any trees suitable for roosting by the Indiana brown bat must be downed before nesting season begins. The contract calls for those trees to be removed no later than March 31.
Should contractors miss that window, tree removal would be halted until November, when the nesting season for the endangered bat is over. That would delay the river-widening project.
A public meeting to discuss the river improvements is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 24, at Winebrenner Theological Seminary, 950 N. Main St., Findlay. Doors will open at 6 p.m.
The Blanchard will be widened, with “benches” cut into the riverbanks for about 2,000 feet between the Norfolk Southern railroad bridge and Broad Avenue, as part of the effort to reduce flooding in Findlay.
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.
Adam Hoff, a principal with the Stantec engineering firm, said trees and brush will be hauled to a staging area at a higher elevation to reduce the risk of debris washing into the river.
Contractors will then have three days to remove the debris from the area. In the event of a predicted flood high enough to inundate the staging area, Hoff said contractors will be given a 24-hour notice to clear the site.
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The conservancy district may also be positioned this summer to begin work on a diversion channel in Ottawa, as part of its flood-control efforts in the Putnam County village.
On Tuesday, district officials said a court appeal of the district’s eminent domain action has failed and the case has been returned to Putnam County Common Pleas Court.
The project has been tied up 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 action, and had no right to claim the ground. However, a higher court found the conservancy district followed the rules.
A 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 only 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.