Marlena Ballinger

Managing Editor

OTTAWA - Officials from Putnam and Hancock counties met with representatives from the Maumee Conservancy District on Monday, December 27. The group met to discuss the next step for flood mitigation since judges voted four to two against the proposed Blanchard Watershed Conservancy District.

Among the group was commissioners from both Hancock and Putnam counties, members of the Blanchard River Flood Mitigation Coalition Steering committee, along with members of the Northwest Ohio Flood Mitigation Partnership including the president, Toni Iriti.

After hearing how long an appeal can take, the group ultimately decided to not go forward with an appeal but instead to file a petition to work with the Maumee Conservancy District.

Bret Spaeth, counsel for the petitioners of the proposed district, advised that an appeal could take six to nine months, cost thousands of dollars and the group could be back to square one if the appeal is denied.

Once a petition is filed, the Maumee District would then determine if they want to take on the flood mitigation project or form a subdistrict within the Maumee.

Lynn Army, one of the three board members from the Maumee Conservancy District explained they would be willing to take on the project. He stated the whole hang-up is the GIS study and how much money this project is going to cost.

"I never did hear how much the [GIS] study is going to cost," said Army.

Army went on to say, "That was the whole hang up, we don't know if we can help you if we can't pay for this thing, we can borrow in anticipation for anything but the problem is if we get the money and this thing dies in the water, guess who has to pay this back."

"We can help you in anyway we can but I think we need to do some thinking and ask ourselves some questions," said Army.

"I think we need to clearly define how are all these people in all these counties going to receive these benefits. We are not going to know that until we have this GIS study done."

Army continued, "The courts have been pretty fair in the past, if you can present a reasonable cause, a projected number of cause, everything in conservancy law is based on benefits."

Army then explained the process of getting a flood mitigation project approved by the Maumee Conservancy District with the first step being, the board of directors looking at the plan. The directors may then add to the official plan or alter the plan.

The board would then approve the alterations and file the plan and have EPA approval if necessary.

Then the board would gather appraisals and take the plan before the 15 judge conservancy court with dollar figures and a general description of the work.

The hearing would take place once the district has all their appraisals and assessments lined up.

Army then explained the process of forming a subdistrict which is similar to forming a standalone district.

If the Maumee Conservancy District decides the project would be better suited as a subdistrict they would then petition the courts for one.

The board would then have to collect a preliminary fund which would be a one time collection, per parcel from people in the water shed.

Then the board would file a petition with the common pleas court in Defiance County and hold a hearing where citizens can voice opinions of the project. The conservancy court would then approve or deny the project.

The board of directors of the Maumee would oversee directors of the subdistrict but the subdistrict may act on their own when it comes to approving contracts based on agreements made with the umbrella district (the Maumee District).

Dick Ricker, of Putnam County is one of the board of directors for the Maumee Conservancy District.

"This is a very important project for this area, something needs to be done," said Ricker.

He feels the hardest fight will be the farmers that live 15 to 16 miles away from the project who don't feel they receive a benefit. He said there needs to be some education done as far as how those farmers will benefit from this project.

Some of the concerns of the group that met on Monday were whether the Maumee could take on a project of this magnitude.

Army assured them they've taken projects on that were similar such as the Little Auglaize improvement that was over 200 miles long and cost around $40 million.

The districts also oversaw a project for drainage for the new Levis Commons shopping center in Perrysburg near Toledo along with many other projects.

Army and others in the group agreed that the biggest benefit with working with the present conservancy district is the experience and knowledge already in place.

Everyone agreed that the current board of directors of the Maumee Conservancy District have the expertise of what the 15 panel judges are looking for when the board proposes a project.

The Conservancy Court made up of 15 judges, one from each county within the Maumee Conservancy District meets the first Friday in May but can hold special meetings if necessary.