OTTAWA — Officials will be considering switching the Blanchard River Watershed project from a federal one to a state project during the next several weeks.
Flooding along the Blanchard has long been a problem for local residents and businesses, with the 2007 flood alone causing $50 million in damages in Findlay and $20 million in damages in Ottawa.
With the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers Buffalo District heading up the project, its workers are still wrapped up in a study that is scheduled to be completed around March 2016. However, State Rep. Lynn Wachtmann, R-Napoleon, along with state Sen. Cliff Hite, R-Findlay, have continuously called for the project to be dealt with more swiftly and ultimately secured $8 million in state funds to get the work completed earlier.
“Its an opportunity that we have to get this done much quicker,” Ottawa Mayor Dean Meyer said.
Meyer said that studies have shown that much of the problem occurs around the I-9 bridge where it intersects with the Blanchard River because of a dam.
The village of Ottawa, along with the city of Findlay and Hancock County, have been involved with the study since 2007. Ohio 5th District U.S. Rep. Bob Latta invited Buffalo District Commander Lt. Col. Karl Jansen to tour the site for about three hours Wednesday in what he said was “to build upon previous efforts to ensure progress on the Blanchard River Flood Risk Management Project.”
Jansen said the project has been listed as the top priority project for the Buffalo district. However, he added that exhaustive studies must be completed to make sure the project is done correctly. He said all information and work would not be lost if officials tried to go a different route and use state or other funds to finish the project.
“If they would break from it being a federally funded project, we would issue them a closure report,” Jansen said. “We would hand over all the information we had gathered and help them through for a smooth transition.”
Meyer did not have a timeline for when local officials would make a decision to switch over to a state funded project, but he did say it could be “fairly soon.”
The Blanchard River Watershed includes Putnam, Hancock, Seneca, Hardin and Wyandot counties, encompassing about 771 square miles.
Latta said he felt it was important to have the Army Corp of Engineers come and get a closer look at the project.
“You can look at pictures, but it is important to get an up close look,” Latta said. “In this region, we can’t afford more occurrences like 2007, 2011, 2013. It cuts communities in half and it causes problems with values of property. There is a real human factor here. This has been a top priority project for me ever since I was elected.”
If the project is switched to state funding, the Maumee Conservancy District would assume control of the work, which includes the building of a diversion channel at the I-9 bridge.
While the modification of the I-9 bridge is estimated at $1 million to $2 million, other alternative plans proposed, such as adding nonstructural measures, offline storage and channel diversion, all in addition to the modifications, could add $78 million, $16 million and $8 million to estimated costs, respectively. However, all projects are being considered closely to get “the most bang for the buck,” according to Meyer.