By DENISE GRANT
The Maumee Watershed Conservancy District plans to continue moving dirt — tons and tons of dirt — with flood-control projects in both Hancock and Putnam counties in 2020.
Benching of the Blanchard River at Findlay, meant to widen the river, is nearly complete. Landscaping and seeding of the area is expected this spring.
A total of 188,000 cubic yards of dirt was removed to widen the river, with much of it going to the Hancock County Landfill.
The $6.1 million project widened 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 floods.
The benching lowered the top bank of the river between 2 feet and 16 feet in the deepest spot. Benches are about 400 feet at the widest point.
The improvements to the river in Findlay are expected to reduce the height of flooding on Main Street by about 1 foot during a 100-year storm.
The project also removed about 600 parcels from the flood plain in Findlay and should help make travel easier during a flood.
Progress is also being made on the replacement of the Norfolk Southern Railroad over the Blanchard River.
Stantec, the engineering firm handling the river widening project, has recommended replacing the current railroad bridge because its supports trap debris and impede the flow of water during heavy rains.
The conservancy district has entered into an agreement with the railroad to begin preliminary design of a bridge replacement. The engineering firm is being paid $145,000 to develop the plans.
Ottawa diversion channel
The conservancy district is also expected to break ground on a diversion channel along the Blanchard River at Ottawa this spring.
The 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, which is expected to lower floodwater in downtown Ottawa by 6 inches during a 100-year flood.
A land-right claim with two Putnam County property owners for construction of the diversion channel at Ottawa was settled in 2019. The project has been tied up in litigation since fall 2016.
Property acquisition is underway for a proposed floodwater basin along Eagle Creek. The basin could cover 800 acres. By comparison, Findlay’s reservoirs in Marion Township combined are about 831 acres, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
The basin will remain dry when not in use, and the area will likely be used for outdoor recreation.
Construction of the basin is expected to cost about $60 million. The State of Ohio has already contributed $15 million to the project, enough to pay for engineering and to begin property acquisitions. Another $45 million in state funding is being sought.
Once constructed, the basin would hold enough water to keep Eagle Creek in its banks from the basin to East Sandusky Street during a 100-year event, and drop floodwater 1.5 feet on Findlay’s Main Street.
In January, the conservancy district purchased a 264-acre farm owned by former Hancock County Commissioner Steve Oman, according to records published by the Hancock County Auditor’s Office, with no purchase price listed. The farm is bordered by Eagle Township Road 49 to the north and straddles Eagle Creek just west of U.S. 68, near Eagle Township 168.
Oman was once a vocal opponent of flood control in Findlay, arguing in favor of only cleaning the river and preserving the farmland. He then ran for commissioner in the 2014 Republican primary on the platform and 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.
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. No purchase price is listed.
Information on two additional properties bought by the conservancy district in January has not yet been published by the auditor’s office.
Purchase prices will be released publicly once land negotiations for the basin have ended.
In all, property acquisition 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.
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.
Between now and May, Stantec engineers must finalize configuration plans and provide a cost-benefit ratio for the basin. The plan must also receive approval from federal regulators.