Seneca County Engineer Mark Zimmerman recommended that county commissioners affirm the Wolf Creek Ditch Petition Tuesday.
At a petition meeting, the commission set the final vote on the project for 10 a.m. Jan. 30 at the Public Safety Building.
After discussion with the county prosecutor, Board President Jeff Wagner said Tuesday's meeting was strictly for the final report from Zimmerman and would not result in a final decision.
Wagner explained that the board functions as a court in annexation and petition hearings. In this role, the board must interpret the law and make a decision based on the law. This decision, unlike other board decisions, may be appealed.
He said with the process of petition law, the board is to send notices by certified mail to affected landowners concerning their assessments before the final meeting.
In his final report, Zimmerman explained the process of the project.
He said the petition is for obstructions to be removed from the main channel from the Seneca- Hancock county line near Alvada to the Seneca-Sandusky county line near Bettsville.
The proposed work is limited to the channel south of SR 18 to the Seneca-Sandusky county line. He said the channel outside of that area was in good condition and required no work.
Work includes removing obstructions such as log jams, dead and fallen trees and sand bars and creating access points for maintenance.
He said the project would help reduce flooding and increase safety for residents. He also said he was confident Sandusky County could handle the water flow if the petition is affirmed.
Zimmerman said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and Ohio Department of Natural Resources all have been made aware of the project and are to be consulted on the work.
He said the Army Corps of Engineers and the Ohio EPA must be involved on channelization projects and waterway permits. He said the proposal was not for channelization, but if any large sand or sediment bars did need to be removed during the project, the county would be required to get permits from both organizations to be in compliance.
The project is to be completed in three to five years. Small log jams and tree removal are to be addressed first. Sand bars are to be evaluated for effectiveness of channel flow.
The time period and systematic approach is to allow for financial easing and for acquiring permits if necessary, Zimmerman said.
The further away from the channel, the less benefit homeowners are to receive. Zimmerman said he has completed a set of rates for each zone created to rate the benefit. Homeowners within 500 feet of the channel will pay $25 per acre, those within 500 to 1,000 feet will pay $15 per acre, and those 1,000 or more feet away will pay $3 per acre.
The state mandated minimum contribution will be $10.
Each homeowner is to be required to pay a 10 percent maintenance fee in addition to the acreage fee.
Zimmerman said the final cost for the project, including a maintenance fund and contingency line is $290,690.40.
With the required $25,000 maintenance fund, Zimmerman said maintenance can continually be done on Wolf Creek indefinitely.
"If next year the ditch management department through (Seneca Soil and Water Conservation District) does $1,000 worth of work on the channel, then that $1,000 would be assessed back to the landowners on their taxes," he said.
The assessment only is done as needed.
He said landowners who believe damage has been done to their property in the assessment phase may come before the board at the final hearing and make their claim. He said the county prosecutor represents both the board and the county engineer, and litigation costs could be absorbed by the county. He said if a special prosecutor is hired, the cost would be assessed to the landowners.
Zimmerman also said the county is encouraging landowners to complete the work themselves, as the work would then be eliminated from their total contribution to the project.
Zimmerman said the process and timeline he and the board have followed on the project is written in the Ohio Revised Code.
According to law, the board has to consider eight factors in affirming or setting aside the petition. If all the conditions are met, the board can vote to affirm.
Zimmerman said that at this time, all eight factors are met, including compensation for damages and benefit to public welfare.
He also said that although a monetary estimate of the possible benefits of the project has not been made, he was confident the benefit outweighs the cost of the project.
In public comment, Kevin Williams of Tiffin said he thought the benefits did not outweigh the costs.
"The petitioners have failed to establish, by any form of methodology or factual basis, that the benefits, which are unknown and undetermined, exceed the cost estimated to be greater than $290,000," he said. "As such, the Ohio Revised Code and the law in the state of Ohio requires that the petition be denied."
James Burns supported the project, saying it should have been completed before now.
"This project probably should have been attended to 30, 40 years ago," he said. "Back then, farmers took care of their ditches. ... now I think we're getting a bargain."
The report can be found at the board's website at www.seneca-county.com.