By DENISE GRANT
DEFIANCE — Convinced there are willing land sellers for a floodwater storage basin along Eagle Creek, the Maumee Watershed Conservancy District board has agreed to take control of securing a $15 million state grant for more flood-control improvements in Hancock County.
The board met in regular session Tuesday and voted to spearhead the project.
Construction of the basin would likely affect five or six landowners.
Clark Lynn Army, general manager of the conservancy district, told his board Tuesday that officials from the Blanchard River Watershed Solutions group have assured him that there are willing sellers.
The Blanchard River Watershed Solutions group includes business, government and private citizens, along with representatives of Hancock United for a Better Blanchard, or HUBB, and Citizens United for a Better Blanchard, or CUBB.
If it proceeds with an Eagle Creek storage basin project, the conservancy district wants to avoid a prolonged legal battle like the one it just settled in Putnam County with two landowners. That project has been tied up in litigation since the fall of 2016.
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.
Work on a planned $5 million, 4,000-foot diversion channel on Ottawa’s northwestern side could begin this fall.
In Hancock County, the conservancy district agreed to take leadership on securing the grant money for Eagle Creek, at the request of the Hancock County commissioners in a letter dated June 6.
In December, Ohio’s General Assembly included the grant in its capital budget, and gave the Ohio Department of Natural Resources state oversight of the funds. In order for the money to be released through the State Controlling Board, a proposed project “information packet” must be submitted to the Natural Resources department and approved.
The grant money is meant to provide funding for preliminary engineering and land acquisition.
Should preliminary engineering show the necessity for a retention basin along Eagle Creek, the General Assembly would consider further funding for design and construction. The conservancy district has also been asked to oversee that work.
The conservancy district on Tuesday authorized the Stantec engineering firm to begin preparation of the project packet, at a cost of $277,800.
Stantec designed the current Blanchard River benching project in Findlay and is currently studying the possibility of additional benching upstream.
A local match of 20 percent would be required to secure the state grant. Steve Wilson, project manager for the conservancy district, said the state will be asked to consider the $6 million already being spent on the benching as the matching funds.
In 2018, the Defiance-based Maumee Watershed Conservancy District, which has oversight of the current Blanchard River benching project, abandoned Stantec’s recommendation to build three large floodwater storage basins in southern Hancock County. The conservancy district board said the plan was too expensive and lacked public support.
Now, Stantec is being asked to engineer a smaller basin along Eagle Creek than it originally proposed and to reduce the number of parcels, structures and the amount of farmland that would be impacted by the construction.
It is also being asked to reduce the risk of flooding to structures and roadway crossings both upstream and downstream of the basin, and to reduce the cost.
Wilson said Stantec is working on 16 different configurations for the Eagle Creek basin.
The smaller basin would most likely be located within the footprint of the larger basin proposed in 2017 by Stantec, and may rely on pumps to move water. Some of the water from the storage basin could also be redirected west to Aurand Run to reduce the flow to Eagle Creek, Wilson said.
The storage area would only be used during floods.
Early estimates put the cost of the smaller basin at about $60 million to construct.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources would also require a 15-year commitment to maintain the basin once complete. Property assessments may be needed to cover that expense, Wilson said.