State of Ohio $3 million flood control grant arrives for Blanchard River projects

From News 11 media partner Findlay Courier:

The Northwest Ohio Flood Mitigation Partnership on Monday said it has received $3 million from the state to help pay for flood control projects in the Blanchard River watershed.

The announcement came the same day the Army Corps of Engineers announced it was launching a general investigation study that will seek to tie together potential flood control projects throughout the watershed.

The state money, approved in last year's capital budget, comes from Ohio's Capital Improvement Legislative Grant. The money was originally expected nine months ago.

Partnership President Tony Iriti said part of the money will be used to pay down the local share of several ongoing flood studies, like those for Findlay and Ottawa that will cost more than expected.

A portion of the grant will be used to buy some of the most flood-prone properties in Findlay and Ottawa if the owners agree to sell, he said.

Purchased properties will be demolished to create either green space or flood protection measures like flood walls, riverbank restructuring, or higher bridge elevations.

Properties were divided into zones. Findlay, for instance, has three zones concentrated north of the Main Street bridge that include more than 40 parcels, some of which are owned by the same person.

The Partnership said it completed property appraisals and sent them to state officials for approval earlier this year. On Monday, Iriti said a real estate agent was expected to start purchase agreements today.

The nine-month grant delay, which Iriti has attributed to a slower-than-usual bonding schedule by the state, has been a setback for the Partnership, which initially hoped to see the money in November 2008 and use it to start buying property in April.

The delayed grant money has not been the only setback the Partnership has experienced. Criticism of its idea to form a conservancy district, separate from the Maumee Conservancy District that much of the watershed is in, appears to have stunted the group's momentum.

The Partnership first wanted to create the conservancy district in March by petitioning common pleas court judges in the six counties of the watershed.

That date was moved back to July, and then September as citizens at public hearings and in news stories bashed the conservancy district idea.

The proposed district's eminent domain and assessment powers, in particular, came in for criticism.

On Monday, Iriti said the Partnership currently has "too much going on" to earnestly pursue the conservancy district idea. He said it would "still keep that open as an option," but the group would not necessarily be petitioning the courts in September for district formation.

He said the Partnership is "still looking at every other option," like remaining under the Maumee district's control.

The Partnership has made more progress in other areas. It forged public and private partnerships which shaved several months off the time needed to conduct government flood control-related studies.

And the group has lobbied at the state and national levels, keeping the flooding issue in front of elected officials.