Homeowners are fed up with flooded back yards

March 06, 1994|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,Sun Staff Writer

Every time it rains or snows, Howard County dumps drainage into Joseph Mahony's back yard in the Laurel area.

It flows in a stream a couple feet wide and 2 or 3 inches deep, washing away his grass and eroding his land. And before the water escapes through a culvert underneath Route 29, it forms a small pool in his neighbor's back yard.

"I could get a kayak and take a ride," said Mr. Mahony, 63, while following the stream's path through the woods behind his house. "It gets worse and worse every year."

This is the third year that homeowners in the Hillcrest Heights community have had the problem. The stream flows from the 3-year-old Patuxent Springs housing development's sediment control pond, a county pond that sits atop a hill, several hundred feet from Mr. Mahony's home.

The county promises to fix the problem by diverting the water from Mr. Mahony's house and the other low-lying homes being flooded -- but not for at least two years.

The project would cost about $470,000. The county had proposed including the project in its fiscal 1996 capital budget. But it is listed in the current budget as a project for fiscal 1997.

In the meantime, county workers have examined the drainage pond and have determined that it was constructed properly, said James Irvin, director of the Department of Public Works. The problem is that Mr. Mahony's house and others sit in the path of the drainage from the pond, he said.

"That is a natural drainage swell into those yards," Mr. Irvin said.

Whether it's natural or not, state Del. Virginia M. Thomas, a District 13A Democrat who represents the Laurel area, said homeowners should not have to wait to have the problem corrected.

"Should they go construct a swimming pool in the meantime?" Ms. Thomas said. "We've got to solve this a lot faster. You have to be blind not to see what's happening out there."

Ms. Thomas plans to contact the Department of Natural Resources to see if the county has violated any pollution laws by allowing water from the pond to erode and flood homeowners' property.

Mr. Mahony said he hopes it will be resolved soon because he plans to sell his house -- and even has a contract to sell it for $156,000.

"When the guy sees this, I don't know how he would want to buy it," said Mr. Mahony, who has lived in his house for 12 years but didn't have a runoff problem until the sediment pond was constructed. "It's just a mess. I wouldn't want to buy it."

When the water flows into his yard and that of his neighbors, the O'Connors, it erodes some of the land, carving gullies in the dirt and forming tiny islands and pools of water.

"Sometimes you have to wear boots to go out to the shed," said Patrick O'Connor Jr., 34, who lives with his parents and brother in the house. "It just keeps getting worse. There's too much coming down, too fast."

Until recently, the problem mainly affected Mr. Mahony and the O'Connors. Now runoff seeps into other neighbor's yards, such as that of Martha Shaw.

One suggestion neighbors have made is that when the water flows down from the new homes, "we'll get a pump and pump it back up there," said Ms. Shaw, 65.

She has lived in her Hillcrest Heights home for 35 years and said she only began having water seep into her yard after this year's major snow and rain storms.

"It's like the little Patuxent River in my back yard," she said.

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