Flood prevention system leaders to retire

·4 min read

Jul. 31—Two Miami Conservancy District leaders are retiring after a combined 69 years at the region's flood prevention system built a century ago after the catastrophic Great Flood of 1913.

Janet Bly announced she will step down as general manager when the search for a successor is concluded. Kurt Rinehart, chief engineer emeritus, will retire at the end of August. His replacement has already been named.

Stronger civic connection to the Great Miami River and its use by the public rose dramatically during their tenures at the Miami Conservancy District (MCD), Bly said.

"Not only are we protecting the communities from the threat of river flooding, but I think now it's also seen as an asset. People are attracted to the river for recreation, enjoying the river rather than turning our backs to it like we once did," she said. "Hopefully we've contributed to that."

Built after the Great Flood of 1913, the system's five dry dams and 55 miles of levee protect more than 47,000 properties in Butler, Hamilton, Miami, Montgomery and Warren counties.

A Sugarcreek Twp. resident, Bly has led the organization since 2002 and has been with MCD for 27 years, joining the organization in 1994 as human resources administrator.

Bly said the biggest challenge — and one that will remain for her successor — is funding.

"We serve a very big area, and we are primarily locally funded. A lot of organizations like ours throughout the country receive a significant amount of state and federal funding compared to us," she said. "There's some advantages to (local funding) in terms of streamlined processes and having local control, but the limited funding from local resources has definitely been a challenge."

Owners of properties that flooded in 1913 pay two annual Miami Conservancy assessments. One is for maintenance of the dams, levees and related flood protection features. The second, the Dam Safety Initiative, is for capital improvements to the five dams.

Bly is the 10th leader of MCD since its formation in 1915. She serves on several boards and commissions, including the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission Executive Committee and the Department of Homeland Security Dam Sector Security Council. Bly is the past president of the National Association of Flood and Stormwater Management Agencies.

Rinehart leaves after 42 years with the organization. He began in 1979 as a young MCD staff engineer.

"Since I've been here, the entire world has changed," he said. "Probably the biggest change is technology. When I started there was no such thing as the internet or email. We didn't have cell phones; didn't have tablets."

Rinehart said computing in the early days of his career was rudimentary and the engineers wrote their own code to calculate river flow and flood data and used IBM punch cards.

A Fairborn resident, Rinehart, formerly served as chairman of the Ohio Dam Safety Organization and president of the Water Management Association of Ohio.

Dan O'Connor was named to replace Rinehart and assumed the chief engineer position earlier this month. MCD has contracted with Waverly Partners LLC, an executive search firm, to create a job profile for the general manager's position and identify candidates for the board's consideration.

Bly and Rinehart both cited upgraded infrastructure as notable achievements during their years with MCD.

A $25 million dam safety initiative started in 1999 is winding down. The organization has worked through a levee analysis and FEMA accreditation process. Along the way, more miles of bikeway were added and river access points for boating and fishing, they said.

Bly said their work has generated a greater regional understanding of water protection.

"I think we've contributed to a bigger sense of water stewardship and people valuing the water resources that we have," she said.

But continued investment in the system will always be needed, Rinehart said.

"We have more-than-100-year-old system, that works fine, but we have to make sure that it will work well into the future and be able to perform properly and perform safely," he said.

Cost to repair concrete portions of the five dams could reach as high as $40 million over the next dozen or more years and will likely lead to property owners, cities and counties protected by the dry dams paying more in future assessments, according to MCD.

Bly said she will miss working with people in MCD as well as alongside those in other community organizations.

"There is never a good time to choose to leave but it feels like the right time," she said. "We have an exceptional staff at MCD who work hard every day, I feel confident in the organization's future."

As he leaves the 1915 MCD headquarters built by Col. Edward Deeds, Rinehart said the region's flood prevention system has become "part of who we are today."

"What MCD does — our mission, our purpose, our history — is really unique," he said. "It's a very special place to work."

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