The final Wolf Creek Ditch hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. Nov. 26 as decided at the Seneca County commissioners update Tuesday.
The petition, to clear the creek of obstructions that are causing flooding issues, was filed May 1, 2012, and the board received the engineer's preliminary report in September. In December, commissioners granted the petition. At the final hearing in November, the board is to affirm or set aside the petition.
As reported by County Engineer Mark Zimmerman and Seneca County Soil and Water Conservation District Program Administrator Tia Rice, the past month's weather has affected the district's ability to finish inventory of the area and completion of the report.
Zimmerman said the district has been evaluating every fallen tree, log jam, dam and sand bar to determine if they affect the main channel. They have about 2 miles left to evaluate. Rice said that if weather is favorable, the project could be completed within a week.
Zimmerman also emphasized that the project would not involve channeling or reconstructing the creek.
According to the Ohio Revised Code, the county engineer has to make his or her best judgment for those affected in the area. Zimmerman has chosen to use the flood plain areas around the creek to make the inventory assessments, starting with those closely affected by the creek's flooding and working outward. These assessments will involve discussing issues with the landowners and evaluating the cost of removing the inventory.
Following the inventory, Zimmerman and Rice are to evaluate the cost of the project.
He said many locations of the inventory items are difficult to get to by dump truck, leading him to suggest that upon discussion with the district, landowners should permit the county to spread the sediment on their land or burn the wood on their property. The cost would be significantly less if dump trucks are not needed to haul the remnants of the sand bars or the fallen trees.
If any inventory is on private property, landowners would be responsible for paying for that item's removal.
The cost estimate cannot be completed until discussions with landowners are finished.
Zimmerman explained that it would be a three- to five-year project and that they could only fix the Wolf Creek area according to the petition. He said that in cleaning the creek, it could help area tributaries and other flooding issues.
He suggested to residents that if they have issues with flooding and are not immediately affected by Wolf Creek, they should either talk to neighbors to clean the creek, work with the conservation district to fix the area or start another petition. He added that teaming up with neighbors would be the fastest and least expensive route.
Board President Jeff Wagner opened the floor for public comment.
Several citizens near the Sandusky County line expressed concern about potential flooding if the project were to continue.
Dalton Pope said water would drain downstream, which could cause flooding for those in Sandusky County and that we "cannot leave our problems to other counties."
Ken Tong suggested Seneca County commissioners work with Sandusky County.
Cliff Hartline responded, saying that in 2004, a similar joint petition was to be signed by both counties until Sandusky County did a cost analysis and killed the petition.
Rice said that flooding issues in Sandusky County would have to go through that county's commissioners.
David Fry said he wanted a second opinion, possibly bringing in the EPA or the Army Corps of Engineers.
In response, Commissioner Fred Zoeller and Wagner agreed that Zimmerman should be trusted in his work. Rice said the Corps would most likely perform its own survey, stalling the project further.
"We need to rely on our experts who went to school for this job," said Wagner. He said that if they searched for a second opinion, that "nothing would ever get done".
Liberty Township Trustee Jerome Miller expressed concern over removing trees on one side of Wolf Creek to create future access points, but Zimmerman explained that this would not happen with this petition. For annual maintenance, areas provided by landowners for access are sufficient, along with cooperation by landowners to keep the creek clear.
Ron Willoughby said commissioners and citizens had no control over the "terrible year," referring to this month's severe weather, and that they could not control the rain. He said citizens could not blame the problem on anyone else. He also said he appreciated Zimmerman's work and his comments.