By DENISE GRANT
There were plenty of kudos to go around as community leaders and government officials pledged Thursday to put years of disagreements behind them in the interest of developing more flood-control options for Findlay.
That was the sentiment at the Hancock County commissioners’ meeting, which Clark Lynn Army, general manager of the Maumee Watershed Conservancy District, attended at the request of local officials.
Thursday’s meeting also was attended by Mayor Lydia Mihalik and representatives of two groups, Blanchard River Watershed Solutions and Hancock United for a Better Blanchard.
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.
Army was in Findlay to attend a pre-construction meeting for the Blanchard River widening project in the city, which is set to get underway this year.
Groundbreaking for the river “benching” project will be held at noon Oct. 4 at a location to be announced.
Army said he was glad to get started on the benching work, and said the conservancy district could help with additional flood-control projects in the future.
“First of all, I wanted to thank the commissioners for helping us with the project and phase one, we’re very excited,” Army said. “We want to throw some dirt and show people what we do and get you guys some flood relief.
“I also want to thank the city for everything that they have done to help us with this, too. You folks have all gone way above and beyond. It’s a pretty cool thing to see something happen like this. I know it seems like forever, but really for us getting involved, it’s been just a couple years ago, and here we are already throwing dirt, and it couldn’t happen without you folks,” Army said.
“If there are projects that come up in the future, based on all of this, as I have mentioned in the press, if it’s something that has broad community support, makes sense financially, has positive benefit costs, and you have a way to pay for it, we’re always interested in hearing what you have, and always willing to help if we can,” Army said.
On Sept. 11, 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 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.
In addition to awarding the contract for river-widening work last week, the conservancy district said it was halting engineering work on three proposed floodwater storage basins south of Findlay.
The basins had been proposed by the Stantec engineering firm. The conservancy district said the proposed basins were too expensive and faced too much public opposition. The district also questioned how the big project would be financed.
The district’s action caught local officials by surprise. Mihalik said Thursday her office had to field concerns that “flood mitigation is dead outside of what we are doing in phase one,” the river widening.
Stantec had proposed constructing three large floodwater storage basins, 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 million, based on the most recent estimate.
“The best thing we have going right now is all the stakeholders at the table,” Mihalik said Thursday.
“It’s an open dialogue and it’s been very fruitful up to this point,” the mayor said. “We just want people to know that while phase one is great, we’re still going to continue to push forward with other projects, whatever that may be, and it is my understanding that the conservancy district is willing to continue supporting that conversation as long as we have that broad community support.”
The Blanchard River Watershed Solutions group has said it favors studying potential benching areas along the river, from Hancock County 139 east to the reservoir, something that is also supported by the rural community.
Watershed Solutions has said it opposed both the Potato Creek and Blanchard River storage basins proposed by Stantec.
In an interview with The Courier last week, Hancock County Commissioner Brian Robertson said he favors smaller projects that can be completed locally, like elevating main thoroughfares.
Robertson also cited the need for “broad community support” for any future flood-control projects.
Robertson attended the annual meeting of the Maumee Watershed Conservancy Court in May. The court, which oversees the conservancy district, is comprised of 15 common pleas court judges. The court ultimately decides which projects are undertaken by the conservancy district.
“…You could tell that the court is not interested in getting into another situation (in Hancock County) like they have in Putnam County,” Robertson said.
The conservancy district’s planned diversion channel project in Ottawa, part of its flood-control efforts in Putnam County, has been in litigation since the fall of 2016.
The proposed $5 million, 4,000-foot diversion channel would be on Ottawa’s northwestern side. Other than utility easements, the diversion channel affects 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.
But eminent domain actions can be challenged in court, as they have been in Putnam County.