River logjam: Objections, defense of project heard

LIMA — The Soil and Water District Joint Board of Supervisors chose unanimously to move ahead with an expansive logjam removal project despite opposition from those in a large crowd at a public hearing held before the vote.

In excess of 300 people turned out for the meeting, many voicing opposition to the project citing a variety of reasons.

Allen Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) Drainage Technician Dan Ellerbrock and Auglaize County Engineer Doug Reinhart continued to define points on why the project was needed, but many attending the meeting voiced displeasure with the project for one reason or another.

The project originally started when 11 landowners petitioned the Allen SWCD due to gradually increasing flooding that has happened along the river’s watershed through the years. The original project was designed to cover 214 miles of

the river and watershed area through Allen, Auglaize, Shelby, Mercer, Van Wert and Putnam counties.

After a public meeting held Sept. 13 in Fort Jennings, the joint board overseeing the project elected not to include 18 miles of riverway extending from the Putnam-Allen County border after six residents voiced their opposition to the plan. The amended project covers 58 miles of river and 7.5 miles of creek.

The project cost is estimated at just more than $1 million, to be assessed onto approximately  158,000 acres of watershed. Estimated assessments range from $1.87 near the Putnam County line to $9.34 per acre upstream near Westminster.

Ellerbrock said that completion of the project would not totally prevent flooding, but that it would greatly decrease the problems in both depth of the water and how long it took to drain away from lower-lying land owners.

He said that it would reduce damage from flooding, remove conditions that jeopardized public health and safety and increase the value of land among other points.

Ellerbrock explained that expansion and property development in the drainage area have been the main contributor to the flooding problems. He said that when the area was largely woods, 2.1 inches of a 2.4 inch rain would run off without causing significant flooding. Now, with development in the area, approximately one-half inch of rain of a 2.4 inch rain would drain properly.

“If a landowner has runoff, they are legally responsible to take care of it,” Ellerbrock said. “Any time you have any kind of building, it speeds up the runoff.”

Reinhart said that landowners did not have to fear concerns about easements along the river if the project goes forward.

“The easement will be used as a drainage easement only,” Reinhart said.

Reinhart also said there now was a greater need due to the ice storm in 2003.

“Maintenance costs went up 50 percent after the ice storm,” Reinhart said. “The logjams change places or magnitude, but they don’t magically go away.”

Landowners would have the right to use wood debris as firewood or would be allowed to dispose of it in any way they see fit, Reinhart said.

Landowners were given 30 minutes each to speak in support or against the project.

Uniopolis landowner Richard Lowry felt the project needs to go forward.

“I don’t need this project, but it is my responsibility,” Lowry said. “I’m old enough to remember the clean-up from Buckland-Holden Road to Wesminster in the 1930s. It helped a lot. It’s my duty to do my share and see that this maintenance is done.”

Lee Logan, of Allen County, said the steady increase of the flooding is evident. He owns a home that sits about 500 foot above the river in the flood plane.

“We have two 24-inch tiles and we still have flooding,” Logan said. “Never before had our barn been flooded since 1939 until the ice storm. Now it is a problem.”

Many opponents of the project felt that logjams were the sole responsibility of the property owner where the logjam was collecting. Paul Reeves, of Auglaize County, said one of his problems was the approach being taken.

“My objection is that the project is being railroaded down our throats,” Reeves said. “I totally feel that there is enough of you here that know when the government gets involved, it gets screwed up.”

Michael Stuber, of Westminster, said it was solely the responsibility of the landowner.

“The river is private property and that has been established here,” Stuber said. “If the river belongs to the landowner, then the trees do also. When you buy your land you look at the geological location.”

Other arguments included destruction of habitat and the simple fact of yet another tax on individuals. Project overseers claim that the project will in fact improve wildlife habitat.

After the public hearing was closed, the joint board briefly discussed the issue before taking a vote. Lou Brown, a member of the joint board from Auglaize County, supported the decision.

“The responsibility cannot be left solely on the landowner,” Brown said. “When a log floats down the river, it doesn’t have a name tag on it.”

Ellerbrock stated after the meeting that he got the feeling that residents weren’t so much against the project as they were against paying for it.

“A lot of people don’t seem that much against the project, they just don’t eant to pay for it,” Ellerbrock said. “They are looking at it as ‘it isn’t my problem.’”

Property owners living within Wapakoneta city limits will have a $25 cost per parcel owned to cover the work and support a maintenance fund. However, the Wapakoneta City Council earlier agreed that presently-leveled taxes already cover the project and that there would be no increase in their taxes. Property owners will be assessed a minimum of $25 per parcel for the work if approved.

The project now will go in front of the represented county commissioners to evaluate the project and elect if they want to go forward. The project would need to be re-evaluated if any of the county commissioner boards vote against the project. To complicate the matter, a group of landowners in the Putnam portion of the project that was dropped now have expressed a possible interest in joining back in the project.