By DENISE GRANT
A group representing Findlay and Hancock County governments, plus business officials and the farming community, plans to lobby the Maumee Watershed Conservancy District, Defiance, for a much larger role in flood-control planning.
On Wednesday, the group, represented by Findlay Mayor Lydia Mihalik and Hancock County Commissioner Tim Bechtol, along with members of Hancock United for a Better Blanchard, or HUBB, and Blanchard River Watershed Solutions, released a “community flood mitigation position statement.”
The group released the statement during a meeting with Courier editors and reporters Wednesday morning.
In its statement, the group said community acceptance of flood-control plans will require “all constituents to be fairly represented in the development of the mitigation plans.”
While the group emphasized the need for both “unity and transparency across all sectors involved,” all of their meetings to date, including those with public officials, have been held privately, a practice that is likely to continue.
Blanchard River Watershed Solutions is a group that includes business, government and professionals. Hancock United for a Better Blanchard is a group that includes mainly rural residents, along with Putnam County landowners.
Discord among rural landowners over the Stantec engineering firm’s proposed floodwater basins prompted the conservancy district to direct the firm to reevaluate its proposal last August.
The company has proposed constructing three large floodwater basins in southern Hancock County, in addition to widening the river at Findlay. The basins would cost about $140 million to construct.
The conservancy district has asked Stantec to review its recommendations using a new rainfall model, which more closely reflects a modern trend toward frequent and severe flooding in northwestern Ohio.
In its original proposal, Stantec’s focus was narrow: lower the level of a 100-year flood at Findlay’s Main Street and other major routes, to permit the passage of emergency response vehicles.
Stantec’s re-evaluation will provide additional information for planning, and will include refined flood maps and an updated benefit-to-cost ratio for its proposals. The Canadian-based engineering firm is being paid $375,000 to review its plan, with the money coming from Hancock County’s flood fund. The report is expected in June.
Findlay-Hancock County Economic Development Director Tim Mayle, who served as a spokesman for the joint group on Wednesday, said the statement it issued includes points where all parties agree. He said there is still some disagreement within the group, but those points were not discussed.
According to the position statement, the joint group plans to lobby the conservancy district to officially participate at its meetings, and wants to join the district board’s discussion of design criteria and peer review.
The group also wants to have input on any additional work recommended by the conservancy district.
The group said it favors “incremental projects” to decrease the impact of flooding, such as road modifications, flood-proofing, improved drainage, continued clearing of the floodway, cleaning the river and increasing its capacity.
Mihalik said the conservancy district will be asked to place the entire watershed on a maintenance cleaning schedule.
Any proposed floodwater storage area, the group said, should stay as close to Findlay as possible. The group believes the only “fail-safe” flood mitigation projects are ones that will increase the river’s capacity.
The group also plans to recommend that the conservancy district limit spending on plans for the large storage basins, until other alternatives are considered, and said the focus of the spending should be “to determine how many acres of water retention are needed, not on where those dry basin retentions should be located.”
The group is also asking that the conservancy district appoint a full-time project manager for Hancock County’s flood mitigation effort by the end of the year.
Steve Wilson, a retired Hancock County engineer, now serves as a part-time project manager for the conservancy district.
Mayle said the group’s goal is to develop solutions that work, instead of “engineering that works, but can never be implemented.”
The group also favors plans to widen the river under the Norfolk Southern railroad bridge, west of Findlay’s Cory Street.
Modification of the railroad bridge is already included in the conservancy district’s plan for the second phase of river improvements at Findlay. Widening the supports of the bridge could cost between $4 million and $5 million. The bridge is about 90 years old.
Negotiations between Stantec and Norfolk Southern are ongoing.
Phase one of the river improvements at Findlay, about a $12 million project, is expected to begin this summer. The Blanchard River will be widened by cutting “benches” into the riverbank for about 3,500 feet between the railroad bridge and Broad Avenue. The benches are meant to increase the river’s capacity.
The group also wants water quality taken into consideration with any flood-control plans.
David Blatnik, a state government affairs manager for Marathon Petroleum, and president of Blanchard River Watershed Solutions, said the Blanchard River watershed, which empties into the Maumee River and eventually Lake Erie, contributes about 5 percent of the pollution found in the Maumee River and about 1 percent of lake pollution.
A public hearing on the impact of the Blanchard River widening project on the water quality of the river is scheduled at 6 p.m. June 26 in the Lindamood Room at the Findlay-Hancock County Public Library.
The hearing will be conducted by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. Representatives of Stantec will attend to answer questions.