MANSFIELD -- Employees of the Richland Soil and Water Conservation District are going on an 18-mile hike along the Black Fork River in January.
Commissioners from Richland and Crawford counties, during a joint ditch petition meeting Thursday afternoon, agreed to a request from Richland County Engineer Adam Gove to have RSWCD conduct an inventory along the river.
Along the way, workers will conduct a survey, counting and marking trees and logjams along and in the river between Mickey Road in Shelby and Ohio 13.
"It's not going to be a stroll along the bank," Gove said. "There is some rough terrain."
It's the next step in the proposed work, which began Feb. 24 when the City of Shelby and rural community members filed a a joint ditch petition, seeking to have the waterway cleared to reduce flooding.
The petition asks commissioners from the two counties "to study and examine the economic benefits to the City of Shelby and the approximately 70,000 acres of the agricultural community that lie within the petitioned watershed area."
Petitioners asked that the river be cleaned and maintained annually by removing felled trees, leaning trees, log jams and debris piles.
RSWCD Administrator Erica Thomas said Thursday her office was interviewing college interns on Friday and would use them in the effort, which will begin in early January, joined by agriculture technician Matt Wallace.
The six commissioners approved moving forward with the plan during a public hearing on Aug. 5, citing Gove's preliminary cost analysis that the benefits of the project would outweigh the costs.
During the public hearing in August, Gove said he estimated the clean-up project itself would cost $664,300, a one-time charge, while delivering an annual economic benefit of $423,700, mostly through improved crop production in fields affected by flooding.
There would also be an annual maintenance fee as needed, which would also be assessed to owners of 10,567 parcels covering about 70,000 acres.
The approval means Gove is tasked with developing more in-depth plans and preparation of final estimated costs for the joint commission to consider, a decision expected in late May.
The inventory work is expected to cost between $20,000 and $30,000 and could take a couple of months, officials said. Funds for the work would come from the property owner assessments, if the decision is made to move forward.
Wallace, who filmed the entire 18-mile stretch with a drone earlier this year, said the inventory will require a closer inspection.
"It will take boots on the ground," he said Thursday.
According to Gove's preliminary estimate, for the construction costs, parcel owners within the defined flood plain would be assessed a one-time fee of $11.25 per acre with a minimum charge of $15. Parcel owners outside the flood plain would be assessed a one-time fee of $7.50 per acre with a minimum charge of $10.
The maintenance fund cannot exceed 20 percent of the initial project costs and would only be assessed if the maintenance work was needed after an annual inspection.
The maintenance assessments, if needed, would cost the parcel owner in the flood plain about $3.50 per acre per year and would be about $2 per acre per year for owners outside the flood plain.
Gove told commissioners in late August his office needs the winter months do to an inventory of the dead trees along the bank and the logjams in the river.
"We really need to get in there and identify and mark the trees that need to come down and look at the logjams," Gove said, adding the lack of vegetation during winter months makes it an easier process.
It's likely the tree removal would not begin until October 2022 due to the fact the area provides habitat for the Indiana brown bat, a federally endangered species. Gove said the work will need to be done between the end of September and the end of March, based upon federal regulations aimed at protecting the bat.