Portage River cleanup plans get more time

FOSTORIA – A proposed ditch improvement project that would cover 45 miles of the Portage River may not
start until next year, but affected residents are still concerned about how it might be executed.
The Joint Board of Commissioners – comprised by the Wood, Hancock and Seneca commissioners – voted
Thursday to grant a time extension for Wood County Engineer Ray Huber to make a recommendation on the
feasibility of an amended request to remove obstructions from the east and south branches of the river.
Because the engineer’s office investigation of a new petitioned portion of the river began in the
spring, Huber said foliage along the banks became thick enough to inhibit the county’s ability to record
necessary data.
To allow the engineer enough time to evaluate whether the benefits of working on the petitioned section
will outweigh the cost, the joint board agreed to continue its first hearing on the ditch improvement
project until 4 p.m. on Jan. 28 of 2010 at the UAW Fellowship Hall in Fostoria.
That means, of course, that flooding issues the petitioners wanted to curtail will not be addressed until
next year. Due to that delay, Mike and Jack Stearns of Bloomdale asked the board to approve preliminary
work – which the engineer called feasible before the most recent petition – on the original portion of
river. However, the board maintained that its hands were tied because it now needed to address all
petitioned portions of the river as a whole and make assessments accordingly.
"It will freeze until I can write the entire report and present it as one project," Huber said.

The first petition was originally filed in the summer of 2007 by Jack Stearns to remove debris from about
33 miles of the river, beginning at the Hancock and Wood County line and continuing north to the new
Rochester area. In February, the engineer declared the requested work a feasible project. A new petition
to extend the project about 13 miles into Hancock County was then submitted within the permitted time
frame by Rex Cunningham and Lanny Boes of Arcadia in March and this amended portion was approved later
that month.
Jack Stearns said the petitioned area had not ever been cleared, and Mike Stearns expressed frustration
with the possibility that the whole project could now prove unfeasible if the amended portion pushes
costs beyond the benefit amount.
Council members Eric Campbell and Keith Madaras from the Village of Pemberville, which sits downstream of
the proposed project, stressed that the project would have a significant impact on their community.
Campbell questioned the validity of the county’s cost-benefit formula, which he said was more than 30
years old. Glen Agner, project manager in the engineer’s office, responded by saying that his office has
used the formula for a long time but that it has also considered some new variables as costs rise.
The council member also told the board that the village’s bridges essentially become dams when water
levels reach more than 15 feet, which then causes problems for communities that reside upstream.
Wood County Commissioner Tim Brown agreed that his county’s offices should be cognizant of those bridges
as they come due for replacement.
"Maybe in those areas that are particularly prone to flooding, we ought to be looking at that in the
future," he said. "Maybe we should build them to different specifications than they are
Madaras asked the board to consider "the humanistic side of things" if it proceeds with the
project. He pointed to the substantial damage caused to homes in his village by flooding and wondered if
this would be accounted for with such an old cost-benefit formula.
Gene Steele, a Pemberville resident whose home has begun to flood often in the past five years, said he
did not dispute the need for improving flow the river but questioned where work would begin.
Steele said he believe Ohio law prohibited changes to the waterway that would negatively affect others.

"You start digging here, bringing water to Pemberville faster than we can get rid of it, you have
obstructed that water," he told Huber. "If you cause me injury, I think you should be held
But Brown said beginning at the other end would only cause the same problems for communities closer to
Lake Eerie.
Other landowners shared concerns about potential damage to property and the likelihood of benefit
received by a ditch improvement.
Brown said the Wood County Planning Commission has been asked to look into any future development in the
county and the possibility of increasing detention pond requirements to stop more water from entering
After the meeting, Brown said the meeting was held in the early afternoon since government bodies
routinely operate during the business day. However, he said the Wood County board approved of holding a
future meeting when more people could participate. The meeting time for January’s hearing was changed
from 2 p.m. based on a suggestion from Campbell.