By DENISE GRANT
Steve Oman, the former Hancock County commissioner who was once accused of trying to kill Findlay’s flood mitigation plans, has sold just over 264 acres of farmland to the Maumee Watershed Conservancy District for the proposed Eagle Township flood basin.
Clark Lynn Army, general manager of the conservancy district, said the district has purchased four properties, a total of 417 acres intended for basin use in Eagle Township, and is in negotiation for more. Army would not break the purchase price down by parcel, citing ongoing negotiations. He said those numbers will be made known eventually.
A call made Friday afternoon seeking comment from Oman on the sale was not immediately returned.
In July 2013, with the fight over flood control reaching a fever pitch, Oman helped lead a group of about 30 people, most representing the farming community, in crashing a private meeting of regional officials, including U.S. Sen. Rob Portman and U.S. Rep. Bob Latta, to lobby for cleaning the river as a method of flood control. Oman then ran for Hancock County commissioner in the 2014 Republican primary on a similar platform, and he lost to incumbent Phillip Riegle.
Oman, of 13123 Hancock County 9, is a farmer. He served two terms as a commissioner between 1997 and 2005. He also ran for an open commissioner seat in 2006, when he was defeated by Riegle. He then challenged Commissioner Emily Walton in the 2008 primary election and lost.
So far, details on only two of the properties have been made public by the Hancock County Auditor’s Office, which registered the deeds earlier this month. No purchase price was listed by the auditor.
The 264-acre farm once owned by the Omans is bordered by Eagle Township Road 49 to the north, and it straddles Eagle Creek just west of U.S. 68, near Eagle Township 168.
The second parcel, with 59.258 acres, is bordered by Eagle Township Road 77 to the west and stops short of a meandering Eagle Creek to the west near the Hancock County 172 intersection. The former owner of the smaller property is listed as a trust, with Joe E. Brown as trustee.
Army said a basin with a large land footprint will be cheaper to build than a more confined structure that has to be dug deeper to hold the floodwater. Engineers have developed about 16 different configurations for the basin. Army said the Oman and Brown properties are at the center of all the layouts.
Engineers say the basin could cost anywhere between $71 million to $402 million to construct, depending on land conditions.
So far, the conservancy has been relying on a $15 million state grant to begin engineering on the basin and to pay for the property acquisitions. Army said he is confident that the state of Ohio will come through with additional funding for the project.
The basin, which is expected to range in size from 600 to 800 acres, will be dry most of the time. However, during a flood, the basin could hold enough stormwater to drop floodwater 1.5 feet on Findlay’s Main Street during a 100-year storm, like the flood of August 2007.
Between two and five residences would be purchased by the conservancy district and demolished to make way for the basin’s construction. Acquiring the land and structures is expected to cost about $25.4 million.
Another $4.3 million would be needed for road and bridge modifications in the area. Eagle Township 49 most likely will be entirely vacated and replaced with a new roadway configuration for area residents, including the Springlake subdivision. Residents regularly use the road to access the subdivision.
Once constructed, it will cost about $100,000 annually to operate and maintain the basin. Upkeep would include mowing, debris removal, maintenance of the basin’s outlet and emergency spillway, and maintenance of public access locations.
So far, there is no recommendation on how that expense should be addressed in the future.
The conservancy district board is expected to ask its court to officially make the project part of its work plan in May.
The court, which meets once a year, includes common pleas court judges from all 15 counties served by the conservancy district. It must approve any new projects within the conservancy district before work can proceed.
The conservancy district serves Allen, Auglaize, Defiance, Fulton, Hancock, Hardin, Henry, Lucas, Mercer, Paulding, Putnam, Shelby, Van Wert, Williams and Wood counties.
During its regular meeting Tuesday, the conservancy district is also expected to open bids on its Putnam County project.
A land right claim with two Putnam County property owners for construction of a diversion channel at Ottawa has been settled. That project has been tied up in litigation since the fall of 2016.
The $5 million, 4,000-foot diversion channel is planned for the northwestern side of Ottawa. Nearly 200,000 cubic yards of dirt will be removed during the construction of the channel.
The diversion channel is expected to lower floodwater in downtown Ottawa by 6 inches during a 100-year flood.