By DENISE GRANT
The $15 million appropriation approved by the Ohio Legislature for Hancock County earlier this week is earmarked for mitigation along Eagle Creek, not the Blanchard River, and the money could be used to develop plans for another floodwater storage basin along the creek.
Language for the appropriation was changed last week to narrow use of the funds.
State Rep. Robert Sprague, R-Findlay, said the language was changed to ensure there is money available for the ideas being studied along Eagle Creek.
The bill, which was introduced in February 2017, while Cliff Hite was still representing Ohio Senate District 1, had originally earmarked the funds for the Blanchard River in Hancock County. Hite resigned from the state Senate later that year.
Sprague, who was elected as Ohio’s treasurer in November, is finishing his third term as representative of the 83rd Ohio House District, following his appointment in February 2011.
He said area representatives have been working for years to get state money for local flood-control efforts, and said it was Sen. Robert McColley, R-Napoleon, who championed the final approval of the $15 million appropriation for Eagle Creek. The appropriation was approved as part of Senate Bill 51, which funds several projects along the Lake Erie shoreline.
With flood mitigation beginning to “make some progress” with the river benching project underway in Findlay, Sprague said it’s an important time for the state to show support.
“The General Assembly worked with local governments and helped drain the Black Swamp. That’s a model we need to follow,” Sprague said.
State funds totaling $3 million were appropriated in 2012 to pay for an environmental study as part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ flood study. The corps’ nearly 10-year, $10-million study recommended a large diversion channel be constructed along Eagle Creek. That plan, which didn’t meet the Army Corps’ own standards for being financially feasible, was eventually abandoned by the Hancock County commissioners.
Sprague said flood-control ideas need to be “creative and thoughtful,” and something both the business and agricultural community can agree on.
“If these groups are able to find solutions that don’t impact people’s homes, that make sense and are reasonable, then we need to make sure that the state is doing its part,” Sprague said. “… One of the most promising solutions we have heard is construction of that Eagle Creek basin. If that comes to fruition, the state needs to be there.”
He said it will be up to local leaders to decide upon a “local sponsor” to team up with the state for use of the $15 million in funds, which will require a 20 percent local match.
There is still more than $10 million available from Hancock County’s 10-year flood-reduction sales tax, which expires at year-end.
Sprague said the Maumee Watershed Conservancy District, Defiance, is most likely the best administrator for any future projects. However, the conservancy district recently abandoned a recommendation to build large floodwater basins in southern Hancock County, with board members saying the plan was too expensive and lacked public support.
Blanchard River Watershed Solutions, which updated the commissioners on their efforts earlier this month, said the group is discussing additional benching projects along the Blanchard River. The group includes business, government and private citizens, along with representatives of Hancock United for a Better Blanchard and Citizens United, or HUBB, and a Citizens United for a Better Blanchard, or CUBB.
Solutions group spokesman Tim Mayle, director of Findlay-Hancock Economic Development, addressed the commissioners on Dec. 12. He the group is also interested in “pursuing engineering along Eagle Creek to determine the cost-benefit ratio of possible flood-reduction efforts along the creek.” However, Mayle did not say the engineering is for a floodwater basin along Eagle Creek.
Meetings of the Blanchard River Watershed Solutions group are closed to the public.
Once either the Hancock County commissioners or the Maumee Watershed Conservancy District gains control of the $15 million in state funds, use of the money will be subject to Ohio’s public meeting and public record laws.
Earlier this week, the Putnam County group, CUBB, said it would favor more benching along the river, uniform stormwater regulations and appealing to farmers to use cover crops and better control runoff from their fields. CUBB said controlling storm water runoff will improve the water quality of the Blanchard River as it flows towards Lake Erie.
Sprague said there is clearly a link between flood-control and water quality, and the algae blooms that have plagued Lake Erie in recent years.
“… We are the headwaters of Lake Erie,” Sprague said.