David Romano, USACE Chief of Planning, led a press briefing about the status of the Blanchard River feasibility study. (Putnam Sentinel/anne Coburn-Griffis)
David Romano, USACE Chief of Planning, led a press briefing about the status of the Blanchard River feasibility study. (Putnam Sentinel/anne Coburn-Griffis)

FINDLAY — A day after updating Findlay officials as to the completion schedule for the United States Army Corps of Engineers Blanchard River flood mitigation feasibility study, USACE representatives briefed local media. David Romano, USACE Chief of Planning, led the April 9 discussion at the Hancock County Engineers office, Findlay, by reiterating recent good news.

“As you already know, we have received $1.5 million in federal funds to complete the Blanchard River feasibility study,” said Romano. “It’s a 50/50 cost share match with the local community. Those federal funds will be matched with the $1.35 million that the local community has already had in place for a long time. It’s really good news that we can come here and say, for once, the feasibility study is fully funded.”

Romano further stated that on April 8, local leaders were presented with an 18 to 24 month completion schedule and that the USACE is looking at ways to complete that study closer to the 18-month range. He also said that specifics, such as where a potential diversion channel may run, are not, as yet, a priority. Rather, at this point, the focus is on keeping the cost of the project as low as possible in order to increase the chances of its ultimate approval.

In addition, Romano explained that a rigorous review process of the plan it ultimately presents is also upcoming.

“That’s happening this fiscal year,” he said. “It’s where the Corps opens our books for independent peer reviews, state agency reviews, public reviews that will be occurring later this calendar year and into the next calendar year.”

As the document goes for review, USACE intends to meet with the various groups to assure their understanding of the report. The level of detail of the comments solicited from these groups will dictate the length of time it takes for the USACE to respond. Simplifying the responses of reviewers by proactively addressing their questions will, in its turn, simplify and speed up the entire process.

“So the closer we work with the communities (and) state and federal agencies, the better those reviews will go,” said Romano.

Authorization to design and construct the project provides the opportunity to seek the requisite funding to actually begin designing and constructing the mechanisms necessary for flood abatement .

In the simplest terms, there is now enough money in hand for USACE to address step one: the completion of a feasibility study (the floor plan) for Blanchard River flood mitigation. During step two, the USACE will seek authorization to design and construct. Once step two is attained, appropriations will be sought through step three. In other words, the U.S. Congress must authorize the appropriation of the monies needed to make that plan a reality. Realistically, it will take a few years out before any physical changes take place along the Blanchard.

“Our mission is to complete the feasibility study,” said Romano.

Over the course of the next two months, a hydraulic engineer will complete quality assurance assessments on the current hydrology and hydraulics model. According to Romano, that model is the foundation for everything that USACE will undertake, insofar as reducing flooding along the Blanchard Rive is concerned. The model will also allow USACE to accurately answer questions about their plan.

Romano noted that the entire feasibility study process is a long and very complex process, but that this is necessary in order for the USACE to make a clear, concise, feasible and environmentally acceptable recommendation to the USACE Chief of Engineers. This assertion was corroborated by Jason Phillips, assistant municipal director for the Village of Ottawa, who explained that the hydrology and hydraulics model has been in the works for six years already

Romano also commented that the USACE is eager for input from local communities, which have a wealth of hand-on information about their regions.

“We really value the experience of the local community,” he said. “We do try to gather as much existing data as possible. The hydrology and hydraulics model may confirm what county engineers already know.”