Mike Pniewski spoke on Monday night about different plans Ottawa could look into for flood mitigation
Mike Pniewski spoke on Monday night about different plans Ottawa could look into for flood mitigation

OTTAWA - Monday evening was the first of four public meetings held by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACOE) that are intended to generate the public's input on a flood mitigation plan. USACOE's project manager, Mike Pniewski presented four possible alternatives for Ottawa along with five possible alternatives for Findlay that will assist in mitigating flooding of the Blanchard River and its tributaries.

With over 100 people present at the meeting held at the Ottawa-Glandorf High School Auditorium, Pniewski explained that the measures that he was presenting were chosen based on a cost versus benefit basis. He said the measures are meant to reduce the amount of flooding that occurs and are not meant to stop flooding.

The measures he presented all included modifying the approach to the Road I-9 bridge. The first measure presented includes the removal of a portion of the I-9 bridge embankment that runs parallel to the Blanchard River for several hundred feet. According to Pniewski, this alternative would restore the flow to the natural floodway and reduce upstream flood elevations. The cost for the first measure would range from $1 to $2 million.

Option two included the bridge modification combined with non-structural measures including the acquisition and removal of buildings, elevating buildings, flood-proofing and ringwalls. The elevation in this measures was based on managing flood risk to the 100-year event plus one foot. Cost for this plant would range from $2 million to $80 million.

Pniewski then explained the third option which again included the modification of the I-9 bridge approach and included the use of detention areas. The detention areas would be located along the Blanchard River and would protect low lying areas, store flood waters and slowly release flood waters back into the river as the water recedes. Pniewski said the water would be released back into the river in a controlled manner. This measure would cost approximately $13 to $18 million.

Option four includes the I-9 bridge approach modifications and channel re-alignment in Ottawa. Pniewski explained that this option would basically split the flow of the river and divert it around Ottawa. This would cost between $7 and $10 million.

Other items being studied for Ottawa include the construction of wetlands and habitats which would assist in slowing down the flow of water.

The five options in Findlay included the use of diversion channels of Eagle Creek, storage areas and building aquisition and modifying the Norfolk-Southern Railroad bridge.

Once Pniewski explained the tentative plan for flood mitigation, he answered less than a dozen questions from audience members. With most of the questions asking when the plan could start, Pniewski explained that once the Army Corps identifies a specific plan, then public officials can obtain a memorandum of understanding that will allow officials to begin working on some of the impediments, such as the I-9 bridge approach. Pniewski said however that it is important to obtain the memorandum of understanding in order to receive credit for work done if the plan is approved for federal funding.

Other questions asked about other bridges along the Blanchard River and Pniewski explained that the one bridge that figured to have the largest benefit versus cost was to modify the approach to the I-9 bridge.

"Most damages that occur are between U.S. Route 224 and I-9 so by removing the I-9 impediment would help the most to reduce flooding," said Pniewski. He also said that the Norfolk-Southern railroad bridge in Findlay was another large impediment that the Corps will look at modifying.

Pniewski explained that only one alternative would be identified and utilized but is dependent upon whether or not federal funds are allocated towards the project. He explained to the crowd that this meeting would be the final public meeting that is part of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The NEPA process is a formal comments period when residents may submit formal comments. The meeting held on Monday was day one of that 30 day process. Those wishing to submit comments may do so may contact the USACE at 800-833-6390 or by email at blanchard.nepa@usace.army.mil.

Pniewski's long-term timeline was to continue with the feasibility study through 2015 with possible design phase beginning in 2015 and taking about two years. He estimated the plan would be ready to present to the U.S. Congress for approval by 2017; he said that at that point it was up to congress to allocate the funding for the project.

Other meetings held were a 9 a.m. meeting on Tuesday at the Putnam County Education Service Center in Ottawa, at 7 p.m. at Findlay's High School Auditorium and on Wednesday, at the Hancock County Agricultural Center located on County Road 140 on Findlay at 9 a.m.

Members from both Ottawa and Findlay have been working on the flood mitigation since the August 2007 flood of the Blanchard River devestated the area. A group first formed the Northwest Ohio Flood Mitigation Partnership, a group that has since dissolved after handing over leadership of the project to the Hancock County Commissioners. Once a preferred plan is identified it is expected that the Maumee Conservancy District will take over leadership of the project.