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California city details struggle to overcome its flood problems


Mayor Jill Techel of Napa, Calif., shows slides of her city's effort to tame the Napa River. Yesterday's meeting included Lt. Col. Daniel Snead, left, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers' Buffalo District, and former Findlay Mayor Tony Iriti.

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OTTAWA, Ohio - Napa, Calif., Mayor Jill Techel yesterday had some good news and some bad news for local officials about her city's attempts to control flooding in the Napa River Valley.

The good news was evident in the photographs projected on the screen: 600 acres of reclaimed wetlands along the river, eight bridges constructed, terracing and flood walls built along the river's banks, and, better yet, new hotels and other development that has sprung up since the flood control project got under way.

The bad news was evident in a photograph, too. On Dec. 31, 2005, 12 inches of rain fell in 12 hours, leaving much of Napa under water despite the progress it had made on flood mitigation.

"About 40 percent of the project was done when the 2005 flood hit," Ms. Techel said.

While the water subsided much more quickly than in previous floods, she said, the city still had some key projects to complete, including the creation of a bypass channel and the relocation of a railroad.

In all, the work will cost about $200 million - half of which is being paid for locally by a half-cent sales tax approved by voters in 1998 for 30 years.

Ms. Techel, chairman of the Napa County Flood Control and Water Conservation District, shared her city's experiences at a meeting of the Northwest Ohio Flood Mitigation Partnership, an organization formed after the devastating August, 2007, flood and funded by businesses in Hancock and Putnam County that agreed they'd rather help fight the problem than move out of town.

Unlike Napa, which spent 10 years developing a flood control plan, the partnership is trying to expedite the process of working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to design and build long-term flood control projects for the Blanchard River Watershed.

Former Findlay Mayor Tony Iriti, who heads the partnership, said the group still plans to assist the Corps in completing its feasibility study of the river by 2010, have the majority of design work done by 2011, and begin turning dirt on the initial projects in 2012.

Casey Brzozowiec, the Corps' project manager, hesitated to say after the meeting if that time line was doable.

"Anything's possible," he said, adding, "There are a lot of things that need to happen."

Currently, the Corps is conducting a hydrologic study of the region that will allow it to develop computer models that show what can happen in the watershed with varying degrees of rainfall.

"We're trying to come up with recommendations of alternatives you can do and also here's what we think makes the most sense for you to do," Mr. Brzozowiec said.

Mr. Iriti presented Lt. Col. Daniel B. Snead, commander of the Corps' Buffalo District, with the first draft of a conditions report for the Blanchard.

Jeff Loehrke, community development director in Ottawa, said doing that work locally saved Findlay and Ottawa about $80,000.

Ottawa Mayor Ken Maag also presented Colonel Snead with a $50,000 check which represented the village's downpayment on its share of the feasibility study.

There will be more of those to come, although the total cost to the two communities is unknown.

"Some of the progress being made people can't see right now," Mr. Iriti told the group. "People want to see dirt moving. They want to see holes being dug for the water to go into, but there is a lot of planning that goes into it first.

"We can't go at these things and dig holes and hope it works," the mayor said. "Hope is not a strategy."

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

or 419-353-5972.

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