Breaking Up Is Easy. Reforms Are the Hard Part

Findlay, Ohio

Findlay, Ohio Findlay Mayor Lydia Mihalik / Facebook

 

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Findlay, Ohio broke ties with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers after a decade of frustration and flooding. Now their mayor wants the feds to change how they do business.

When Findlay, Ohio experienced a “hundred-year flood” in 2007, thousands of residents were displaced and public buildings were destroyed. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was called in to help create a flood mitigation a solution, but 10 years later, the Corps’ plan was deemed “not likely eligible to receive federal funding.”

While this is a fairly common story, Findlay and its mayor, Lydia Mihalik, have put a different spin on it. Not only has the town and region taken matters into their own hands, finding ways to build their own flood mitigation plans at their own cost, but Mihalik is now pushing lawmakers in the nation’s capital to reform the Corps of Engineers.

“[T]he processes by which a community has to follow to even begin to have a conversation around a project is cumbersome,” Mihalik told Route Fifty in a recent interview. “It’s antiquated. The Corps needs to get out of those conversations. There are cities, there are counties, communities across the country that have really vexing problems around flooding and flood control.”

Just last week, Findlay broke ground on its flood mitigation project. During the wait for the feds, however, more floods occurred. By 2011, it had experienced its third significant flood in four years. Just last July, Findlay experienced another of the worst floods in the city’s history.

“[W]e’ve learned what we need is a consultant that can help us design the process and then we just need to put our heads together in the Findlay way and actually get it implemented,” Mihalik said. “[W]e are 90 percent complete with one phase of our design, we’re looking at the feasibility of doing a couple of other things, but it’s nice to know that we have control and that we have the opportunity to make some decisions.”

Mihalik is polite when she speaks about the ordeal with the Corps, but a word that she uses a lot to describe the experience is “frustrating.” Unfortunately, her frustration is not unique.

“I know there are communities across this country that want to see change relative to the Army Corps of Engineers—particularly with flood mitigation work,” Mihalik remarked. She has been working with leaders from other communities that have similar frustrations with the process.

Flood control projects undertaken by the Army Corps must not only meet the necessary technical standards, but also a litany of regulatory hurdles ranging from environmental to cost-benefit analyses based on historical risk models. The process for identifying and authorizing projects is slow even by federal standards—and on many occasions doesn’t produce the results the community would most like to see.

“There’s no reason why the design of these projects—the feasibility and eventual design of these projects—should take decades,” Mihalik remarked. “It’s completely unacceptable, our citizens don’t like it and that’s not how government should work.”

That’s a message Mihalik has not only sent to her state delegation on this issue, but also to President Trump on multiple occasions.

“If communities just had some kind of matching dollar to help them implement the projects, it’s amazing the potential we could unlock,” Mihalik said. “My hope is that through this infrastructure package … there’s some consideration given to the backlog of projects that have just been working through the system for decades. Communities need the corps help; that’s why they’re there.”

In the meantime, Findlay, Ohio—and Mayor Mihalik—are forging ahead, with or without Washington, D.C.

Watch the full interview or check out our other key takeaways below.

On the Lack of Women in Executive Roles

“We’ve spent a good amount of time trying to focus on the legislative side. So we’re pushing women into state legislature positions, pushing them to get involved at the federal level and the congressional side, but we haven’t done enough of saying ‘Hey, you know what? It’s not just going to Washington and hanging out in the Capitol—there are ways women can be productive at the executive level, too.’”

“We need to focus more on women in executive leadership positions. I think it’s opportunity. I think women are always looking for ways to get involved and I think being a mayor can be somewhat of a daunting challenge, and we just need to see that mayors can be represented by all types and all comers, and so I’m looking forward to hopefully helping along the way, to bring more women on board, because certainly that diverse viewpoint is important.”

On Findlay, Ohio’s Economic Growth

“People want to make sure that they are investing in communities that are investing in themselves and we continue to do that year after year, and we will continue to do that into the future. And hopefully we can continue this great ride that we had economically for the last several years.”

“We’ve had record number of investment, record number of jobs, record square footage that’s been constructed, and I think the most exciting part about our economic story over the last several years has been that the majority of the growth we’ve experienced economically has come from existing companies.”

On Being a Conservative Woman In The U.S. Conference of Mayors

“This is a really welcoming organization, and what I like about what we do here at the conference is we are accepting of different viewpoints, we understand that you know different parts of the country have different ideas, and we’re willing to have a dialogue around it. And that’s been one of the most fulfilling parts.”

“We’re here to serve in the absence of some leadership at different levels, because our citizens hold us accountable for that. Regardless of party, regardless of gender, regardless of affiliation of a whole number of things, there’s a diverse thought here at the conference and it’s a conference that’s willing to have those conversations regardless of … where we come from, who we represent and what our political leanings may be.”

Mitch Herckis is Senior Director of Programs for Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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NEXT STORY: When Your Downtown Is Built Over a Flood-Prone Creek

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