Findlay, with a history of repeated flooding, is investing millions of federal, state and county funds in an effort to prevent future flooding. The second phase of benching along the banks of downtown is set to begin, where artificial “benches” are being built into the banks of the river to control high flood-prone waters in a planned way. The efforts are intended to avoid major flooding, like what Findlay experienced in 1913 and 2007.
In addition to the emotional trauma and physical damage caused by flooding, in the past, some buildings have been rendered unrepairable and emergency services have been inaccessible to those affected.
“The prolonged effect is the fear that occurs with potential flooding events,” Mayor Christina Muryn said. “We’ve been doing a lot of work to clear properties that were in the floodplain. But then we also needed to go a step further to decrease the likelihood of events caused by severe storms, recognizing that they are happening more regularly. One of the challenges for Findlay [that you might not realize] is that the distance between the southern Hancock County border to downtown Findlay is a hundred foot drop. We have more water coming in than can get out, so we have a spike that occurs in our community, and we need to get [the runoff water] out [of the downtown area] in a controlled fashion.”
After a proposal that proposed a diversionary channel for the water was rejected, a multi-phase plan was agreed to. The first phase is for transportation improvements around US68 and for benching along the river banks from the Norfolk-Southern bridge to Broad Avenue. That phase is now nearly completed. The benching involves making a cut into the banks of the river in between two retaining walls to let rising waters flood over a wider than natural area during high precipitation events.
Changes in the river’s course decreased capacity for water volume
“This goes back to the history of the city,” Maumee Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD) Project Manager Steve Wilson said “In the downtown area there were quite a few oxbows in the river, pretty sharp ends in the stream itself. Back in the 1930s, one of the New Deal organizations came up with an idea to fix up those oxbows to straighten out the river, which they did.”
But doing that, Wilson explained, reduced the river’s capacity to handle high water volumes. They removed the material that had been placed in that area over time from the Norfolk-Southern Bridge to Broad Avenue. “That area is excavated down so there’s about ten feet of bank above the normal water level in the river,” Wilson said.
The second phase of benching from North Cory Street to the CSX bridge will begin next winter or spring. CSX representatives were contacted for this story but declined to comment.
Phase three will be the doubling in length of the century-old Norfolk-Southern rail bridge which, Muryn explains, is now low enough with the added precipitation to act as a sort of dam during high water events due to its height.
According to documents provided by the city, the 150-foot long bridge will be replaced with a 300-foot bridge with a lowered floodplain beneath it. Norfolk-Southern did not formally respond to a request for comment, but Muryn said they’ve been good partners in the project.
Constructing a basin
Eagle Creek is at the center of the next phase. About 765 acres of land on lots purchased by the MWCD, who are in the process of constructing a basin held by an earthen dam within the Maumee River tributary to contain flood water during heavy rainfall, gradually allowing the excess water to seep into the river and out into Lake Erie.
Construction for the basin in Eagle Township will start in 2024, according to city records. It is designed to “lower flood levels in downtown Findlay by up to [one and a half] feet in a 100 year storm event” once completed. It will take 18 to 24 months to complete, according to a website set up to explain the project.
When the benching of the river banks are completed, residents will be able to use them as a park. The final configuration will depend on the money the city receives from a quarter percent sales tax with estimates ranging from $10 million to $40 million. Currently potential designs envision an amphitheater, play areas, an area for food trucks, a pedestrian bridge, cherry trees and a fishing spot. As well, plans are in the very early stages to turn the Eagle Creek basin into a wildlife park.
For more information, visit findlayohio.gov.