By DENISE GRANT
DEFIANCE — With the widening of the river bank expected to be finished this fall, officials have their sights set on the next phase of improvements to the Blanchard River at Findlay: replacement or modification of the Norfolk Southern Railroad bridge in the downtown.
The Maumee Watershed Conservancy District board, Defiance, voted Tuesday to investigate the options. The board and the Hancock County commissioners have agreed to pay for plans to modify or replace the bridge, which is about 90 years old. The Stantec engineering firm will develop the plans.
Stantec will be paid $144,000 by Hancock County for the engineering, and the agreement will reimburse Norfolk Southern $30,000, which is anticipated to be its cost for reviewing the plans.
Money from the county’s flood fund will pay for the expense.
Supports for the bridge, which crosses the Blanchard River near downtown Findlay, have been identified by Stantec as a “pinch point” in the river. Modifications or replacement of the bridge would be designed to stop the supports from acting like a dam during floods.
The Hancock County commissioners approved the agreement during their regular meeting Tuesday.
At Tuesday’s conservancy district meeting, Steve Wilson, conservancy project manager, said Stantec is also investigating the potential of additional widening or “benching” of the river bank in Findlay.
If additional benching is feasible, Wilson said, the bridge modification would have to be done in conjunction with the benching.
Separately, Stantec is expected to start soil borings this week in an area of Eagle Township being studied as the possible location for a floodwater storage basin.
About 25 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.”
By state law, the conservancy district has the “right of entry,” meaning that upon proper notification, property owners cannot deny entry to surveyors.
Construction of the proposed basin would 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. The basin would most likely be located within the footprint of a larger basin proposed in 2017 by Stantec, and might 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.
Stantec is being paid $277,800 to do preliminary engineering on the storage basin.
ODNR has agreed to count the $6 million being spent on the current “benching” project as the local match for the state funds. As a condition for accepting the match, the City of Findlay must agree to maintain the benched area for the next 15 years. The widened area of the river should only need mowing. Findlay City Council heard the first reading of the agreement at its regular meeting Aug. 6.
Mayor Christina Muryn, who attended Tuesday’s meeting of the conservancy district, said she anticipates council will approve the agreement at its next meeting, which will be at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 20 at the municipal building, 318 Dorney Plaza.
In order for the grant money to be released through the State Controlling Board, a proposed project “information packet” must be submitted to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and approved. The conservancy district is preparing the information packet.
Muryn thanked the conservancy district Tuesday for its work in moving flood-control projects forward.
The conservancy district is also close to settling land right claims with two Putnam County property owners for construction of a diversion channel at Ottawa, to reduce flooding along the Blanchard River there. That project has been tied up in litigation since the fall of 2016.
Bids on a planned $5 million, 4,000-foot diversion channel on Ottawa’s northwestern side could be sought by fall.
The diversion channel is expected to lower floodwater in downtown Ottawa by 6 inches during a 100-year flood.