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Published: Tuesday, 8/28/2007

U.S. to study Blanchard flood risk

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
A mountain of trash grows at Emory Adams Park as 15 crews
have been busily picking up damaged goods from residences. A mountain of trash grows at Emory Adams Park as 15 crews have been busily picking up damaged goods from residences.
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FINDLAY - Mayor Tony Iriti was out picking up trash yesterday with a satisfied grin on his face.

He had received word that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finally would launch a flood risk management feasibility study on the Blanchard River in Findlay.

"I'm excited," the mayor said as he picked up water-damaged items from the curb with Service Director Mike Sobczyk. "I'm excited that the Army Corps decided Findlay was a priority. Whether it was [Sen. George] Voinovich, [U.S. Rep.] Marcy Kaptur, whoever it was that helped get that done, my hat's off to them."

The mayor had made an unsuccessful plea in Washington in March for Congress to authorize the corps to conduct a study of the Blanchard River, which had overspilled its banks and flooded low-lying neighborhoods and streets several times in December and January.

Last week, he was prepared to make another trip to Washington after heavy rains caused flash flooding on Tuesday that sent the Blanchard 7.5 feet over flood stage on Wednesday. Much of the city was under water.

Philip Berkeley, manager of the Army Corps' Continuing Authorities Program, was scheduled to be in Findlay today to meet with the mayor and other officials to begin the long-awaited feasibility study, said Bruce Sanders, spokesman for the Corps' Buffalo, N.Y. district office.

"For all intents and purposes, the feasibility study really begins [today] when Phil shows up - boots on the ground," Mr. Sanders said.

He confirmed that the agency reallocated funds from its Continuing Authorities Program for a feasibility study in Findlay - a move that did not require congressional authorization.

"All that was needed was some political pressure," Mr. Iriti said. "Unfortunately it didn't happen back in March. I guess political pressures came to bear this time."

A feasibility study must be done before the corps can determine what could and should be done to control flooding on the 95-mile river.

Depending on what the study finds, Mr. Sanders said, the corps then could move into the design and implementation phase of a flood-control plan.

"I can't tell you how long it's going to take, but obviously since headquarters gave us the money they have made it a priority," he said.

Federal regulations state that the first $100,000 of the costs of a feasibility study are paid for by the federal government, with any remaining costs split 50-50 between the federal government and the local municipality. If the project moves forward, federal funds would pay for 65 percent of the cost and 35 percent would have to come from "nonfederal" sources.

Staff from FEMA and the Small Business Administration were in the area over the weekend assessing the damage to determine whether the affected counties qualified for federal assistance.

Mr. Iriti said some 15 crews were out picking up flood-damaged trash, including city crews and two firms the city has contracted with. He said the clean-up effort had been "amazing.''

One FEMA representative, the mayor said, told him that in 18 years, "he'd never seen a community this far along in this short of time."

In other action last night, the Findlay school board voted to delay the start of classes because of the flood.

The board last night voted unanimously to make Sept. 10 the first day of school in the district in this Hancock County seat, which was devastated by last week's floods.

The first day of school had been scheduled for Sept. 4.

Also last night, the board agreed to spend $1.8 million for cleaning and repairs to Central Middle School. The school, which has about 480 students, experienced severe flooding.

It was unknown last night how much of those expenditures might be covered by insurance or government aid, but the board agreed to spend what leaders thought they must and seek reimbursement later.

If the Central building is not ready for students on Sept. 10, arrangements are in place to hold classes in churches, a community college, and other areas, school leaders said.

In delaying the start of school, however, school leaders talked about the condition of city sidewalks and bus stops - some of which are cluttered with debris from the flood - as well as classrooms.

The district will make up two of the days used in the delay by switching the professional development days for teachers to before school starts, rather than having them as days off for students during the school year, officials said.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.



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