Everything is important when the Maumee Watershed Conservancy District meets, especially when the Blanchard River watershed is on the agenda. Take Tuesday’s meeting in Defiance.
The board awarded a $6.1 million contract to Findlay-based Helms Construction to widen about 3,500 feet of the Blanchard River, just west of downtown Findlay.
While a formality — Helms was the lowest of six bidders — approving the contract was a critical step in our flood-control efforts. The project is the first one that involves moving dirt.
The district’s stamp of approval means Helms’ crews can start working and could be done by this time next year. That’s much-needed progress.
The fact that a local business was hired to do the job is another positive on the long journey to reducing flooding in both urban and rural areas in the watershed. To date, the process has been painstakingly slow.
The widening project will reduce the water level in downtown Findlay and downstream by a foot during a 100-year storm event. Certainly, more gains will be needed, but accomplishing phase one is a major accomplishment.
It was also significant Tuesday when the board stopped additional funding for studies related to phase two, which involves three proposed floodwater storage basins located in three different areas south of Findlay.
That decision appears to be driven by the project’s $140 million price tag and strong opposition that arose from those who live near the proposed basins.
Dry storage basins are designed to temporarily hold water when it floods, but are otherwise dry. The concept is a good one, even if the locations were not. Perhaps other low-lying spots near the Blanchard River, Lye Creek or Eagle Creek will now be considered as potential water storage sites.
The conservancy district could have still pushed forward with the phase two plan with its power of eminent domain and its authority to impose property assessments to pay for it. But lawsuits would have certainly resulted and delayed implementation for years. That approach would have been divisive, as well.
All things considered, officials made the right call by stopping further study of the dry basins, at least until a more acceptable location or locations can be found.
The decision, however, puts an even greater onus on city and county officials, as well as the groups Hancock United for a Better Blanchard and Blanchard River Watershed Solutions, to come up with an alternative plan. Flood control can’t end when the Helms project is done.
As discussions move forward, it’s important to remember that flooding doesn’t just impact the city of Findlay and that any project which reduces flooding will benefit everyone in the watershed.
Many have grown impatient and some have come to believe we’re wasting time and money. It didn’t help that we were led to believe after the 2007 flood disaster that we were on a fast track to getting something done. Both the Army Corps of Engineers and the Stantec engineering firm did the work they were asked to do. Their ideas just weren’t acceptable to most, with the exception of the widening project.
With Helms now on the job, progress is within sight. It’s time to move on to the next best ideas, explore them and try to reach a consensus. As long as the Blanchard River runs through us, we must see flood control as a continuing project with no end date.