By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
The wait is nearly over for citizens who petitioned 10 years ago for a big portion of the Portage River to be cleaned out. On Thursday, the petitioners got two bits of good news.
First, the county commissioners from Wood, Hancock and Seneca counties accepted a bid for the project.
And second, that bid was $284,273 lower than expected.
So after a decade of waiting, the Portage River project will likely get started in January.
Four bids were received, with the lowest bid of $374,641 from H&H Land Clearing of Middlefield, Ohio, being accepted by the county commissioners. The highest bid came in at $547,782.
Hancock County Commissioner Brian Robertson vouched for the H&H company, which has done work on the Blanchard River. The firm did a “fantastic job” and was “on task and on time,” Robertson said.
The Portage River project is the biggest river cleanup undertaken in Wood County in terms of area, according to Wood County Engineer John Musteric. It follows 46 miles of the south and east branches of the Portage River, covering 111 square miles of watershed in Wood, Hancock and Seneca counties, affecting about 8,200 parcels of land.
While the size of the project is great, the scope is not. There will be no digging, no widening, no channelizing. The river branches will be allowed to keep their meandering paths. The work will only remove logjams and trees leaning into the river.
The cleanup of the Portage River branches is intended to reduce future flooding for properties along that stretch.
Duane Abke, with the county engineer’s office, said the cleanup project may start as early as January. “Weather permitting, they like to do it when the land is frozen,” he said on Thursday.
The Wood County Engineer’s Office plans to notify landowners right along the river as the project progresses to their properties.
“Before the contractor shows up on their door step,” Abke said.
The cleanup is expected to be completed by Aug. 1, 2019.
The cost of the project will be divided among the landowners of the 8,200 parcels, based on the benefits their properties are expected to experience. The assessments can be paid all at once or be spread out over seven years on their taxes. Since the project bid came in under estimates, the assessments will be adjusted.
When county engineer staff walked the river routes after the petition was filed a decade ago, there were approximately 243 log jams, 4,300 dead, fallen or leaning trees. It is believed there are now many more downed trees due to ash borer beetles.
The river project has created some concerns from those residents downriver from the cleanup. New Rochester shouldn’t have to worry since there are no logjams between that community and Pemberville, according to the engineer’s office. However, Pemberville may experience more flooding due to its bridges and to some floodplain areas being filled in the past.
Once the river project is completed, it will be put under a county maintenance plan.