By DENISE GRANT
STAFF WRITER

DEFIANCE — The Maumee Watershed Conservancy District board, Defiance, agreed Tuesday to do a study of more widening of the Blanchard River at Findlay.

The district board was asked by the Hancock County commissioners to administer the study. The commissioners have agreed to pay the Stantec engineering firm $78,000 for a preliminary review of the idea.

Money for the study will be taken from the county’s Flood Mitigation Capital Projects Fund. Money in the fund was generated by a 10-year sales tax that expired at the end of 2018. The fund contained about $20.9 million as of Dec. 31.

The project would extend the river “benching” upstream from the Norfolk Southern Railroad bridge to the CSX Railroad bridge, on the north bank of the river.

Steve Wilson, who works as a project manager for both the conservancy district and the commissioners, said Stantec has indicated in the past that the area might work.

The additional “benching” would be about a third the size of the current project, and could help drop the river level another 3 to 4 inches during a 100-year flood.

The current benching project, and modification of the Norfolk Southern Railroad bridge, is expected to lower the river by as much as 15 inches during a similar storm.

The eventual goal is to lower the river by 3.5 feet during a 100-year flood.

Wilson estimated that with the current benching project costing $6 million, one a third that size would probably cost about $2 million.

While the gains might not be as great as the current project, conservancy board members said every inch counts in trying to manage floodwater, and agreed to look at the idea.

The commissioners are expected to approve the engineering contract today.

Stantec estimates a report on the additional benching should be finished in about three to four months.

Contractors are nearly a third of the way done with the current benching project. The $6.1 million project will widen the river by cutting “benches” into the north 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 during flooding situations.

Wilson said crews were able to work most of March, and are on schedule to finish the project by the end of the year.

He said work to clear and bench the old Brandman tire dump along the river is nearly complete. So far, 105 tons of tires have been removed from the benching area.

About 120,000 tons of dirt has been removed from the benching area so far, and nearly all of it has been taken to the Hancock County Landfill. Most of it is considered solid waste because it contains tire debris, but can be used to bury trash at the landfill.

About 500 tons of dirt was considered hazardous due to high lead content and had to be shipped to a hazardous waste landfill, Wilson said.

Once contractors clear the old dump, the rest of the dirt can be used as fill dirt where needed. Wilson said it is up to the contractors to decide where to take the rest of the dirt, but it most likely will be in Findlay.

Drone footage of the benching is available online at the project’s website, hancockcountyflooding.com. The site is maintained by the conservancy district.

Wilson is expected to deliver an update on both the Findlay and Ottawa flood-control projects at the May 3 meeting of the Maumee Watershed Conservancy District Court. The court, which meets once a year, includes common pleas court judges from all 15 counties served by the conservancy district.

The court must approve any new projects within the conservancy district before work can proceed. No new recommendations are expected May 3 for Hancock or Putnam counties.

The meeting will be held at 10 a.m. in the Defiance County Courthouse.

The conservancy district serves Allen, Auglaize, Defiance, Fulton, Hancock, Hardin, Henry, Lucas, Mercer, Paulding, Putnam, Shelby, Van Wert, Williams and Wood counties.

In Putnam County, one of two landowners, who have been actively challenging the conservancy district’s eminent domain action there, has agreed to an offer for the property needed to build a diversion channel on Ottawa’s northwestern side.

No details about the deal were released Tuesday.

That project has been in litigation since the fall of 2016.

The proposed $5 million, 4,000-foot diversion channel on Ottawa’s northwestern side is much smaller than a 9.4-mile Eagle Creek diversion channel that was proposed in Hancock County by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Other than utility easements, the Putnam diversion channel affects only the 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.

The district can also levy property tax assessments to pay for flood-control work.

On Tuesday, the conservancy board signed an agreement to pay for an easement to maintain the Ottawa diversion channel once it is constructed.

The board agreed to pay a one-time fee of $5,000 to the Putnam County commissioners for the right to cross county property at 575 Ottawa-Glandorf Road. The agreement is pending the land purchase for the channel.

Grant: 419-427-8412

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Twitter: @ByDeniseGrant

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