A caravan of local officials traveled around the county on Thursday for the Wyandot County Soil and Water Conservation District’s annual county officials’ conservation tour, with stops at several area farms and the Sandusky River bank slip on Indian Mill Drive in Upper Sandusky.
Attendees included Wyandot County Commissioners Steve Seitz and Ron Metzger, Wyandot County Treasurer Missy Rife, Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Soil and Water Deputy Chief Mike Bailey and employees from the local offices of SWCD, the Farm Service Agency and the Natural Conservation Resources Service, as well as SWCD board members. Other officials making appearances included Congressman Bob Latta (R-Bowling Green) and a representative from the office of Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH).
Upper Sandusky Mayor Scott Washburn told the group that the Ohio Public Works Commission has approved a $239,000 loan to repair erosion damage on Indian Mill Drive, which has been closed near Kimmel Court since February.
“When I took office, this was always something that was coming up,” Washburn said. “When I first started, they used to mow behind that guardrail; believe it or not, they could still get back there. The last couple years, it just started really chewing away and it kept falling and falling and getting worse and worse. … We were concerned obviously for the safety of people going through. And also, we have a gas line that feeds … Bridgestone and all the big companies out there. That keeps them going.
“It was getting to the point where we were getting really scared,” the mayor added. “We made the decision for safety to shut it down. Then we applied for emergency money and we were lucky enough to get a grant for that.”
John Hull, of Hull and Associates, the Toledo engineering firm the city hired to find a solution to the problem, updated the officials on how the damage might have occurred and what can be done to ensure safety for drivers, pedestrians and children riding bicycles down the road. He said the hillside caved for a variety of reasons, including extra moisture in the ground from 2007 flooding and other flooding events in the past couple of years that have caused the demise of large, old trees. Paired with “flashier streams,” the hillside gave way and was a safety concern for anyone in the area, Hull added.
“We have two pretty good sized dead trees down here that you probably should get removed this summer,” he said. “We had a very, very wet year the year before last … and when the ground gets really soaked and starts moving a little bit, things get out of whack and when trees die, the root balls start to contract a little bit. They can break off connection with the soil (and) shrink.
“When you’ve got something that was a static situation (that) becomes very dynamic, … things happen faster,” Hull added. “… For a combination of reasons, we are in an era of micro climate change. The streams are getting much flashier and what that means is that when you get a rain event of a certain duration or intensity, the water comes up faster, moves faster and then goes down faster. … So you have a lot more kinetic energy that works on the banks.”
The direction of the river also played a role in the bank slippage, Hull said.
“We’re at a point here where the river comes in and makes a pretty good turn,” he said. “We’re at the outside curve of a bank. … The velocity of the outside of a curve in a stream is much faster than on the inside. That higher velocity, more energy, erodes more of the bank, undercuts the bank and that undercutting the bank can expose the trees. It can accelerate their demise, exposing the root ball.
“There are cycles and whether you want to attribute it to climate change or solar flare or combinations or whatever, that’s OK,” Hull added. “But the fact is that we’re seeing flashier streams.”
Hull, who is an Upper Sandusky native, said the initial project is estimated to cost between $250,000 and $270,000, but he added that not even engineers can know exactly what Mother Nature has in store for an area that experiences big changes in its ecological systems.
The project could begin as early as this winter and Hull said that is an ideal time to work on the river because of a frozen ground. The construction should take a couple of weeks to complete, he said.
“It’s not a surprise that this happened here,” he said. “It’s a very steep bank. … We have to stabilize that bank because we know that it’s only going to get worse over time. … (We) go in with rock, cut out the loose material and … build a tow of rock and … probably put them in metal boxes called gabions. … Over time, Mother Nature will bring soil down with the flow, these things will become inundated, soil particles will settle out and they’ll become more naturalized over time. But they’ll look a little ugly for the first few years.”
Because the location is part of an Ohio Scenic River, Hull said the firm will have to consult with scenic river employees and “there will have to be some compromise.”
“We can’t put it back like it was; that is a mistake,” he added. “Maybe we can get something good out of it by ending up with a little bit of a plateau that might actually be a nice walk down the bank to throw a fishing pole in.”
The day began at Gottfried Nature Center, Upper Sandusky, where Latta visited the group before the caravan left the nature center. He talked about his experience with ditch projects, as Latta is a former Wood County Commissioner.
“I represent the largest agricultural district in the state,” he said, attibuting it partly to “good land.”
“In our area, if we don’t have ditches, we’re not farming,” Latta said.
The next two stops were at the Walter-Kear ditch project in Richland and Salem townships, where SWCD District Technician Jeff Hohman discussed the four main types of projects for problematic ditches. The first is a group compromise, where all affected landowners agree to go forward with a project of their own. The second option is a petition, where the county commissioners vote on whether or not to assess the land, with the county going in to help do the work. The third option is a private project, where a majority of landowners in a watershed want to move forward with a project, and the final option “takes into account the group project method and the petition method and shakes them up,” Hohman said.
Seitz said since he took office three years ago, the commissioners have seen a fluxuation in the number of petitions requested each year. He said some years, the board hears one or two requests, while other years, it receives up to four requests.
The group saw a newly completed grassed waterway at the Brian Frisch farm and a waterway being constructed on the Wes Honsberger farm. Both farms are in Salem Township.
Seitz attended the tour for the fourth year, he said, but this tour differed from years past in that it included the stop at a waterway being constructed. Contractor Mark Levering and his son Matt were busy moving soil around with their heavy machinery at the Honsberger farm.
It was Bailey’s first time taking a county officials’ tour, as he became deputy chief just four weeks ago. He said he spent eight years in the Ohio Department of Agriculture before moving to the division of soil and water.
“It’s been impressive to see landowners themselves wanting to work to implement these conservation practices that we’ve seen and the dedication of the staff … and leaders to work with landowners to address some of the conservation challenges that they’re facing,” Bailey said.
By ALISSA PAOLELLA