Severe flooding is a growing threat to many Midwestern communities. It’s a well-known and recurring concern in Western Ohio – especially in Findlay and Ottawa, which were hit by a “100-year flood” in August 2007. Water from the Blanchard River spilled into the low-lying towns, causing more than $100 million in damage in Findlay and about $12 million more in Ottawa.

The past 12 years have been a slow and agonizing effort to assess, rebuild and move ahead – if moving ahead was even possible. City officials lobbied for relief funds, the Army Corps of Engineers studied plans to safeguard the communities, and the area’s largest employer – Marathon Petroleum – considered packing its bags and relocating if a plan to prevent future flooding wasn’t developed.

This rendering of the Blanchard River in Findlay shows in dark green where “benching” along the riverbank is to be done in an effort to ease future flooding. AEP has infrastructure in that area that the company will relocate.

Not only has a plan emerged, but the wheels are finally turning on significant improvements that will help stabilize both the flood-prone Blanchard River and offer peace-of-mind to the neighborhoods that dot its shores. AEP is one of the companies that is stepping up to see that the plan to help Findlay and Ottawa prevent future floods becomes reality.

“I live right here in Ottawa so I can tell you that this issue is critical to everyone who lives here,” says John Recker, AEP Ohio Community and Customer Experience Account Manager. “After that flood in 2007 people were pretty scared and worried. It’s been a long road, but a lot of people have stepped up to make this project a reality. And AEP has been a major community partner in making it happen.”

One of the biggest projects is “benching,” or the excavation of tiered-sections of dirt along the Blanchard’s shores. By cutting into and excavating floodplain areas in Findlay, engineers say flood levels can be reduced by approximately 12 inches. One problem: AEP has transmission lines that follow sections of the river and stand in spots targeted for benching. After careful consideration, AEP has agreed to undertake a $4 million effort to relocate these poles.

AEP is involved in Ottawa’s flood-control efforts, too. One particularly curvy stretch of the river flows so slowly that it increases the likelihood of flooding. The plan to fix this is to dig “diversion channel” that will keep the river flowing quickly when waters rise. Cutting the channel will require plenty of time, equipment and manpower, and AEP – which has nearby property that allows convenient access to the dig site – has granted contractors full access to help ease the work. The 400-plus loads of dirt from the new channel will also be hauled across AEP land.

“We know that the health of our business is tied to the health of the communities we serve. It’s still early, but these communities are already seeing results,” Recker says. “I’m so proud to work for a company that is committed to doing its part as a good citizen. It means a lot to me personally, and the people who live here won’t forget it either.”

Published July 16, 2019

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