FINDLAY -- Common pleas judges from Allen, Hardin, Seneca, and Wyandot counties ruled Wednesday that a conservancy district should not be created to oversee flood-control measures in the Blanchard River Watershed.
It was only the judges from the two counties most severely affected by a 2007 flood who favored establishing a new conservancy district.
Judge Joseph Niemeyer of Hancock County and Judge Randall Basinger of Putnam County dissented from the majority opinion, writing that the evidence presented at a Nov. 22 hearing, including testimony from government officials, business interests, and private interests, had "established a clear consensus of those significantly affected by past flooding events that a separate Blanchard District would promote the prevention of flooding in the Blanchard River Watershed."
Judges Jeffrey Reed of Allen County, Kathleen Aubry of Wyandot County, William Hart of Hardin County, and Steve Shuff of Seneca County felt differently, saying that the existing Maumee River Watershed District, which encompasses four of the six counties in the Blanchard River watershed, could be in a position to take on flood control projects along the Blanchard.
"The petitioners have failed to present sufficient evidence to demonstrate, by a preponderance, that the public health, safety, convenience, or welfare demand the organization of an additional district in this case," they wrote.
Hancock County Commissioner Ed Ingold said officials who petitioned the court will have to sit down with the board of the Defiance-based Maumee River Watershed District to see if the district is willing to take on this project.
"I'm reading [the decision] strictly as those four judges didn't feel that there was enough conversation with the main Maumee Conservancy District as to whether or not that conservancy district should, could, or would take over the [Blanchard River] project in partnership with the Army Corps of Engineers versus a stand-alone district," Mr. Ingold said. "What they were saying is, we already have something in place; use it."
Since the August, 2007, flood, the privately funded Northwest Ohio Flood Mitigation Partnership has been working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to expedite the planning process for permanent flood control along the Blanchard River. The flood caused some $60 million in damages in the city of Findlay in Hancock County and an estimated $20 million in damages in the village of Ottawa in Putnam County.
The partnership was to be phased out at the end of this year, and officials have been working to identify a public entity that could work with the Corps of Engineers to continue the process. While commissioners from Hancock, Putnam, Hardin, and Allen counties decided in July to petition for creation of a locally controlled conservancy district, opposition arose from property owners, township trustees, and others who felt it would be costly to create a new agency and that any flood control projects would disproportionately benefit the city of Findlay.
The Hancock County commissioners temporarily serve as the liaison with the Army Corps, and Mr. Ingold said they will continue to do so until a new arrangement is made.