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Published: Wednesday, 2/20/2008

Pemberville hopes for best as county assesses Portage River

The Bierley Avenue bridge crosses the Portage River at a height of only 13 feet. The Bierley Avenue bridge crosses the Portage River at a height of only 13 feet.

PEMBERVILLE - Flooding of the Portage River in Pemberville has been a long-standing problem, but village officials fear Wood County commissioners may soon make the problem much worse.

Commissioners received a petition from a group of local farmers last year requesting the county clean out sections of the river that run through their farmland and flood during storms, damaging their crops.

The petitioning farmers' land sits upstream from the village of Pemberville along the river, which flows north through Wood County.

Village and Wood County officials said last week that cleaning the river south of Pemberville without cleaning it in the village itself would likely cause water to back up more quickly in the village during storms, leading to more severe flooding.

"When somebody cleans their part of a river or a ditch, you may make the water go faster through your part, but whoever's down the river from you, if they're not as clear, that's where the water's going to back up," said Andrew Kalmar, Wood County administrator.

Wood County Engineer Ray Huber's office began in September an assessment of the river to determine costs and the benefits of cleaning it.

Mr. Huber said his office has spent the last six months walking along the 32-mile stretch of river, examining fallen trees, eroded banks, and other obstacles that slow down water flow.

"We are within five miles of completing the walk of the river," he said.

Mr. Huber has talked with Pemberville residents who have questioned the county's legal authority to clean the river at the possible expense of other county taxpayers.

"I understand the concern of the village of Pemberville," he said. "But again, I must emphasize we're just in the process of gathering data and that's exactly where I am at right now."

He expects to complete his research no later than April 1 and will make a recommendation to commissioners whether or not they should clean the river.

Hancock and Seneca County commissioners, whose counties may be affected, also are involved in the decision to clean the river, Mr. Huber said.

Pemberville and Wood County officials are still estimating the damage caused by flooding this month, but Mr. Kalmar said the county's emergency management officials determined the damage was not severe enough to warrant a state of emergency declaration, which is necessary for county residents to qualify for emergency relief funds from the federal government.

David Popp, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green) who visited flooded parts of the county Feb. 8, said Mr. Latta's hands are tied until the county and the state declare a state of emergency.

"Until we hear from them, there's nothing we can do in terms of federal funding," he said.

The flooding situation continues to be monitored by state officials.

"The Ohio [Emergency Management Agency] is in constant communication with the counties and they're responding to the needs and concerns of Wood County as quickly as possible," said Amanda Wurst, a spokesman for the governor.

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