By DENISE GRANT
“Right of entry” notices have been sent to about 25 property owners along the Eagle Creek corridor in Hancock County, advising them that surveying of the area for a proposed floodwater storage basin will be ongoing through August.
The letters, dated July 18, are from the Maumee Watershed Conservancy District, Defiance. State law grants conservancy districts the right to enter properties to conduct surveys for preliminary planning, and forbids attempts to stop them.
A copy of the “Right of Entry” section of the Ohio Revised Code, Section 6101.14, was included in the letters.
Steve Wilson, project manager for the conservancy district, said state law grants conservancy districts “the right to enter properties for the purpose of collecting information necessary to prepare preliminary engineering plans and documents.”
Property owners along the Eagle Creek corridor, from Eagle Township Road 80 south to Hancock County Road 37, have been notified of the surveying.
All of the notified property owners are within what the conservancy district considers an “area of potential effect,” Wilson said.
“Even though the proposed project could be constructed north of Hancock County Road 45 and south of Eagle Township Road 80, the state and federal reviewing agencies require us to investigate a larger ‘area of potential effect,’ by identifying existing wetlands, existing threatened or endangered species, and any cultural or historic attributes,” Wilson said.
“We also will be doing topographic surveying and collecting soil borings.”
Several years ago, stonewalling by property owners in Eagle Township, who refused to allow surveyors onto their property during a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study, was identified by the corps as a detriment to its study.
At the time, not a single property owner was willing to allow the corps access. The lack of access meant less accuracy in its proposal, corps engineers said.
The corps’ nearly 10-year, $10 million flood control study recommended a large floodwater 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.
Wilson said the Army Corps did not have “right of entry” authority under federal statue.
The conservancy district is expecting more cooperation from landowners this time.
In June, the conservancy district agreed to take over the study of a new flood basin proposal after being assured by the Blanchard River Watershed Solutions group that there are now willing sellers of land along the corridor.
The group includes business, government and private citizens, along with representatives of two other groups, Hancock United for a Better Blanchard, or HUBB, and Citizens United for a Better Blanchard, or CUBB.
Construction of the proposed basin is expected to affect about five to six properties. Those properties have yet to be publicly identified.
In December, Ohio’s General Assembly included a $15 million grant in its capital budget for an Eagle Creek flood-control project, and gave the Ohio Department of Natural Resources state oversight of the funds.
The grant money is meant to provide funding for preliminary engineering and land acquisition.
Should preliminary engineering show the need for a floodwater retention basin along Eagle Creek, the General Assembly could consider further funding for design and construction.
In order for the grant 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 conservancy district has 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 studying the possibility of additional benching upstream.
A local match of 20 percent would be required to secure the state grant. Wilson said the state will be asked to consider the $6 million already being spent on the benching as the matching funds.
In 2018, the conservancy district, which has oversight of flood-reduction efforts in Hancock County, 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.
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 in 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 require a 15-year commitment to maintain the basin once complete. Property assessments may be needed to cover that expense, Wilson has said.