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ST. MARYS — County crews are wading through brush and debris in an effort to restore flow to the St. Marys River.
The Auglaize County Engineer’s Office recently kicked off its log jam removal program along the St. Marys River. County Engineer Doug Reinhart said it has been two years since crews have been able to move equipment along the river to remove fallen trees and debris.
“This is one of 12,” Reinhart said as he pointed out one of the log jams in the river off Barber Werner Road approximately 6 miles north of St. Marys. “This isn’t even a big one.”
Crews started at U.S. 33 near St. Marys with the removal program. Reinhart said it took crews little time to find the first jam — which was found near the Miami and Erie Canal.
Typically log jams are removed during the winter when fields are frozen. However, Reinhart said the ground did not freeze enough last winter for the heavy machinery to move along the banks of the river.
“The foliage makes it tougher to see where you are at,” Reinhart said of clearing log jams in the summer. “There are some areas where there is cropland and we won’t knock down crops. Normally once it freezes up, it’s the ideal time because other than plowing snow, I’m not doing a lot of work.”
In 2010, Reinhart said the cold winter provided ideal conditions for removing log jams. With crews unable to tackle jams last year, it resulted in some massive jams along a river that on a good day has little slope.
“The problem with the St. Marys River is it meanders,” Reinhart said. “Every 50 yards, it curves and that causes the current to go bank-to-bank and that causes erosion.”
Any tree that is leaning more than 45 degrees is “flesh cut,” Reinhart said. That allows the roots to remain whole in the hopes of preventing bank erosion.
“It was just so wet in 2011, we never got to the river,” Reinhart said. “In 2010, we got it to a clean channel.”
The flood of 2011 compounded the problem. Massive flood waters carried debris down the river and built up several large jams along the way.
“It’s just moved together,” Reinhart said of the jams.
Jams are classified on a scale of A to D. An “A” jam is the smallest, and a “D” jam is the largest.
“A is one tree, a B is two or three trees in one area,” Reinhart said. “A C jam is a lot of trees and not total blockage and a D is total blockage.”
The log jam program is part of a four-county maintenance petition that was approved in 1995. Reinhart said each property owner is assessed for the program — a rate that has remained the same since 1995.
“On this river, there’s some decent gradient from St. Marys to about this area here,” Reinhart said. “It’s probably about 5 feet of fall every mile. From here to the Indiana line, there’s 10 inches of fall every mile. That jam will block water back 3 miles and it’s affecting drainage down stream.”
Another issue the jams create is the inability for storm water to properly drain off land. During heavy rains, much of the land north of St. Marys along the river floods.
“If we can keep that water in the channel and not in the flood plain, the wildlife has a better chance of surviving,” Reinhart said.
“And when it goes across the agriculture land, it’s not picking up nutrients and putting them into the river.”
As part of the St. Marys River petition, property owners are assessed $1.50 an acre. Reinhart said the rate is low because there are scores of property owners involved in the petition.
If the weather holds up, Reinhart estimated crews would be done removing the jams within a month.