The Hancock County commissioners, in a 3-0 vote, agreed Thursday to seek qualified engineers to oversee the design and construction of the proposed 9.4-mile Eagle Creek diversion channel on Findlay’s west side.
That decision may not be a game-changer, but it puts us at a critical point in the Blanchard River flood-control project.
The resolution merely allows the commissioners to advertise for engineering firms. But under an aggressive project time line unveiled Tuesday, the commissioners would need to contract with an engineering firm by mid-May.
Then, if all goes as planned, construction would begin in 2018 and be completed by February 2021.
A tougher call than Thursday’s may be just ahead if the commissioners decide to hire an engineering firm, but they did the prudent thing by passing the resolution. It was a small but necessary step.
The question arose when city and county officials learned that the final part of the Army Corps of Engineers’ study of the watershed would be delayed, again, and that the estimated cost of the diversion channel had risen.
The alternate, unveiled Tuesday, puts us on a path where the project would need funding from state and local sources.
Even though $9 million has been spent on a study that is almost nine years in the making, Commissioner Brian Robertson said he’s had doubts about federal funding since 2013. But, he admitted that he still wants more information and discussion with the corps before he can commit to the local funding option.
Officials, including flood czar Steve Wilson and Findlay Safety-Service Director Paul Schmelzer, said the local option is worth consideration now that it appears the corps may not deliver.
Both stressed the tight time line would need to be followed if the flood-control project is to be “married” to an Ohio Department of Transportation project scheduled for late 2017.
Under that arrangement, the excavation cost of the diversion channel project would be reduced substantially because ODOT would take the soil from the channel for interchange work at Interstate 75, Ohio 15 and U.S. 68.
Thursday’s vote would have likely been more routine had it not been for several farmers who attended and questioned the need for additional studies, engineering, and spending.
Commissioner Mark Gazarek, in response to one farmer’s question, said commissioners were not changing the course of the project, or spending more money, through Thursday’s vote.
“We’re just trying to cover all the alternatives,” he said. “We’re going to be criticized if we do, or if we don’t.”
The commissioners must make tough calls. The diversion channel project has no middle ground. One is either for it or against it.
This week’s developments suggest, once again, that officials must operate with more openness if they expect a community buy-in of the project on the local funding option.
Too much was already decided outside the public view by the time Findlay Mayor Lydia Mihalik made the first pitch to the commissioners on Tuesday. The timing left little opportunity for public review or comment before Thursday’s meeting.
Schmelzer’s disclosure Thursday that officials have been talking with ODOT for three or four years suggests a less than transparent process, since it was not disclosed until this week.
Taxpayers have a real and legitimate need to know exactly what they’re getting for their money when it comes to flood control. That need won’t change regardless of how the project is funded.