By DENISE GRANT
The Maumee Watershed Conservancy District’s decision to abandon the Stantec engineering firm’s proposal for three floodwater storage basins came as a surprise to the Hancock County commissioners, but there appears to be a consensus that it’s time to move on.
Stantec had proposed three large floodwater storage basins, which would be constructed along Eagle Creek, along the Blanchard River at Mount Blanchard, and along a tributary known as Potato Creek. The cost of the construction would be about $137.5 millon, based on the most recent estimate.
“Not to be disrespectful, but at the end of the day, we have to execute” flood-control plans, said Clark Lynn Army, general manager of the conservancy district, based in Defiance. Halting the storage basin proposal “was the directors’ decision. The basins are too expensive, and the community support wasn’t there,” Army said.
Army also said it was also unclear how Findlay and Hancock County would pay for such an expensive endeavor.
Brian Robertson, chairman of the Hancock County commissioners this year, said the decision is within the conservancy district’s purview, and he agrees with it.
“What they are basically saying is that we need to work toward solutions that have a consensus of urban and rural support,” Robertson said. “There are other options, like transportation or more benching, and other smaller-scale approaches.”
Robertson was a driving force behind the commissioners taking control of the flood control plan from the Army Corps of Engineers in 2016. He said the conservancy district was then given control of the plan due to the district’s level of expertise.
After learning that the Army Corps of Engineers’ nearly 10-year, $10 million flood control plan didn’t even meet the corps’ own standards, the commissioners contracted with Stantec, a Canadian-based engineering firm, to take charge of the Blanchard River flood control study.
Then in September 2016, the commissioners agreed to put the conservancy district in charge of working with Stantec and day-to-day management of the project.
The district, which represents 15 counties, is the second-largest conservancy district in Ohio, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The district was established in 1949 and has primarily overseen flood control measures and improved drainage for the Auglaize River basin.
Under the agreement, the commissioners kept control of the county’s flood fund.
This week, the conservancy district awarded a $6.1 million contract to Helms Construction, Findlay, for improvements to the Blanchard River in Findlay.
The river will be widened in Findlay by cutting benches into the riverbank for about 3,500 feet between the Norfolk Southern railroad bridge and Broad Avenue.
The benches are meant to increase the river’s capacity. The project will excavate the benches on the north bank of the river.
Work is expected to begin this year and be completed by September 2019.
Once complete, the improvements to the river in Findlay are expected to reduce the height of flooding on Main Street by about 1 foot during a 100-year storm. When complete, the project is expected to remove about 600 parcels from the flood plain in Findlay and make travel easier during a flood.
Aside from clearing the Blanchard River floodway of houses and other structures, the river widening is the largest flood control project in Findlay’s history.
The public will be able to monitor progress on the project online at www.hancockcountyflooding.com.
“Right now, we want to focus on the river improvements,” Army said. “We want to do a good job and show the community what we can do. Let’s get phase one done and get Findlay some flood relief, and then we can see what’s out there” in terms of additional projects.
Robertson said the level of trust and unity is improving locally around the issue.
In May, a stakeholders group representing the commissioners, the City of Findlay, Blanchard River Watershed Solutions and Hancock United for a Better Blanchard issued a joint goals statement.
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.
Tim Mayle, a spokesman for Watershed Solutions, said this week the group continues to work with other stakeholders to find common ground to reduce flooding.
“For example, we are in favor of studying potential benching areas along the river, from Hancock County Road 139 east to the reservoir,” Mayle said.
“We are also not in favor of the Potato and Blanchard storage basins,” Mayle said.
Army said the conservancy district welcomed news that community groups have organized to explore flood control options beyond the Findlay river improvements.
“We’re excited to see that the groups are talking,” Army said. “If the community comes back to us and says there is a project that we all support and it is something they can afford, we’ll take a look at it. That’s really where we are at.”
So far, the stakeholders group, Blanchard River Watershed Solutions and Hancock United for a Better Blanchard have closed their meetings to the public.