State, city officials blame each other for garage mix-up

April 12, 1991|By Martin C. Evans

The top Baltimore public works official says that the state should share the blame for the mix-up that led the city to start building a $7.7 million parking garage in a flood plain without the necessary permit.

But a Maryland Department of Natural Resources official sharply rejected yesterday the allegation by city public works director George G. Balog that sloppy procedures by the state led city officials to believe that they had state approval to go ahead with construction of the parking garage, which is being built just north of the War Memorial building in a flood plain of the Jones Falls.

The state halted construction of the garage March 14, after a state inspector discovered that the city had completed the foundation and three stories of the eight-story garage without receiving a waterway construction permit.

Before issuing such permits, the state seeks assurances that buildings will not act like a dam, diverting potentially deadly flood waters toward occupants of the building or toward adjacent properties.

The mix-up is expected to force the city to pay more to complete the garage and could reduce the amount of money the city will be able to collect in parking fees once it is completed.

Mr. Balog said that Maryland officials should not have relied on telephone messages to a city consultant to get additional information needed for the city's permit application and should have put their requests for more information in writing.

"I think it was pretty loose to deal with our consultant by phone," Mr. Balog said.

"I think if the state has a requirement, it should put it in writing so we know what we have to do. If it was in writing saying you have to do this or that, there would not be a problem." His deputies believed the permit application filed by the city last August was complete -- and allowed work to begin -- because a message from the consultant to the Public Works Department relaying the state's request for more data was misplaced, Mr. Balog said.

Katherine Pieper Stevenson, director of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources water resources division, rejected Mr. Balog's assertions.

She said that the city should have contacted the state if it believed there was a problem with the permit, which the city applied for last August.

She said state officials dealt directly by telephone with city consultants because city officials were hurrying to get the building under way. "Assuming you have a permit is not the way we have ever done business," said "You don't proceed without a permit, that is state law."

Ms. Stevenson also questioned assertions by city officials -- including Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke -- that the state does not have jurisdiction over the construction site, saying the city would not have applied for a permit if they did not think they needed one.

"They certainly didn't question our jurisdiction when they applied for the permit in August," Ms. Stevenson said.

Architects working for the city will have to redesign the building to allow water to pass through it.

City and state officials believe that the redesign will force the city to eliminate 47 low-lying parking spaces, knock down walls, move underground utility structures and reconfigure an exit ramp so that motorists would not be trapped by floodwaters.

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