Wildlife biologist Angela Sjollema, with the Stantec engineering firm, sorts through buckets full of freshwater mussels Wednesday as workers relocate the mussels upstream in the Blanchard River. The mussels are being moved before work begins on a river-widening project in Findlay. (Photo by Randy Roberts)

Staff Writer

Getting the flood-control project for the Blanchard River at Findlay started means moving some mussels this week: hundreds of freshwater mussels are being carried upstream.

Despite the unusually cold weather, a team of biologists and civil engineers from Stantec, the engineering firm designing flood-reduction plans, has been in the river gathering, cataloging and relocating the mussels upstream of four dams and ripple structures that are being removed as part of the river project.

Workers have been knocking holes in the dams to allow water to flow freely and river levels to drop. The sudden drop in water leaves the mussels stranded along the new shoreline, where they had congregated in shallow water.

The dams are being demolished one by one to make sure biologists can be on site quickly to salvage the mussels.

At the Cory Street dam, Wednesday was a good day for finding the freshwater bivalves.

Angela Sjollema, wildlife biologist with Stantec, could be found in her waders, knee-deep in the Blanchard River, sorting through buckets and net bags full of mussels.

“You see this bag. It’s full of small ones, the babies. That’s a very good sign,” she said. “It means they are reproducing.”

The bag appeared to hold at least 50 little mussels.

The young mussels are a sign that the population is healthy, she said.

The first haul of the day, which took nearly two hours, netted about 200 mussels from the Cory Street dam location, representing about seven different species.

The team will continue to comb each demolition area until they are sure most of the mussels have been found.

Previous mussel surveys of the Blanchard River have found some rare mussel species, including the Alasmidonta marginata or “elktoe” mussel, and the Truncilla truncate or “deertoe” mussel.

While those mussels are not listed as federal endangered species, they are considered a “species of interest” in Ohio, meaning the state is investigating their well-being. Findlay’s survey will help that effort.

Mussels are some of the most endangered species worldwide. These long-lived, bottom-filter-feeders help remove pollutants from the river and improve water quality for other river inhabitants.

All of Ohio’s native mussels are protected. The state requires any disruption to their habitats to be avoided and minimized. If their habitat must be disturbed, then efforts must be made to survey and relocate the population, by law.

About 65 mussels were pulled from the Liberty Street dam area, and 17 were found Tuesday along the riffle structure underneath the Norfolk Southern Railroad bridge.

The deartoe mussel was discovered again Wednesday. Other, more common species found during Wednesday’s sweep included the giant floater, paper pondshell, fatmucket, pink heelsplitter, white heelsplitter and the mapleleaf.

Some of the mussels pulled from the river were more than 6 inches wide. Some could be decades old, Sjollema said.

Mussels can live to be 100 years old.

So how do you tell the age of a freshwater mussel?

“You count the rings. Yep, just like a tree,” Sjollema said. “And the wider the ring, the better the year for the mussel, just like trees.”

In September, the Maumee Watershed Conservancy District awarded a $6.1 million contract to Helms Construction, Findlay, for the river improvements in Findlay, including the dam removals.

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, and will be excavated on the north bank of the river.

The project is expected to 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, 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 can monitor its progress online at www.hancockcountyflooding.com.

Grant: 419-427-8412
Send an E-mail to Denise Grant
Twitter: @ByDeniseGrant