Residents blame I-97 work for flooding

August 05, 1994|By Consella A. Lee | Consella A. Lee,Sun Staff Writer

Their basements have flooded, their swimming pools are filled with sand and silt, and their back yards are ruined. And the folks who live on Baylor Road in Glen Burnie say it's all the fault of the construction work on Interstate 97 at Quarterfield Road.

"It's a man-made disaster, and they're at fault as far as I'm concerned," said Richard Rawlings Sr. of the construction crews who have been widening I-97 and building new exit and entrance ramps behind his house.

The yards have flooded previously, he said, but "we've never, never, had anything come close to our home, and we've lived there 30 years."

Mr. Rawlings and his wife, Agnes, cut short their vacation in Ocean City when they learned that 8 feet of water had flooded their club basement the night of July 27.

State officials say their storm water controls are adequate for normal rainfall, but not for the intense storms that night. There was no way they could have foreseen the force that overpowered the project's sediment traps and silt fences and lifted manhole covers off the streets, they said.

"It poured about 4 1/2 inches of rain in six hours or less. There aren't too many systems that could handle that unless you're in Seattle, where they're used to heavy rain," said John Healy, a State Highway Administration spokesman. "We just got so much water so fast."

He said a holding pond under construction on Quarterfield Road near the I-97 interchange kept things from being much worse.

But none of that means much to the people on Baylor Road whose homes were damaged -- and who don't want to get stuck with the bill to restore their properties.

Residents say their homeowner's insurance won't cover the damage. And officials at Maryland Casualty Co., which insures the contractor, Williams Construction Co., told the residents in an letter Aug. 1 that their investigation to determine fault, if any, is continuing.

Wesley Newman, a claims adjuster for Maryland Casualty, said he has no idea how long the investigation will take.

"In a loss like this, it is very extensive. There could be many avenues you have to go down to see who is responsible, if anybody at all," Mr. Newman said.

If Maryland Casualty won't pick up the bill, residents may have to file a claim with the state's treasury office, said Mark A. Coblentz, an SHA project coordinator.

"In my opinion, and this is only my opinion, this is not an act of God. It is an act of man," said Mr. Rawlings' son, Richard Jr., who discovered the damage when he returned home from a movie in Annapolis.

The water in the basement "was over my head," he said. "I'm about 6 feet. My parents, they're shorter than me. They would have drowned."

The younger Mr. Rawlings said it took firefighters nearly three hours to pump out the basement.

The water ruined carpet, furniture, stereos and records. It burst the steel door and warped a side gate. A refrigerator floated on its side.

Outside, things weren't much better. The water in the family's swimming pool has turned murky from the silt, sand and debris deposited in it.

"My mother was so upset, once in a while she got into a crying spell," said the younger Rawlings.

"It was a heck of a thing to walk into," said his father.

Carolyn Jackson, who lives next door to the Rawlings, was in Seattle, visiting one of her sons the night of the storm. It wasn't until two days later that she learned of the flooding and cut short her trip.

Wednesday, she sat in her living room, surrounded by books lying on the floor that she was trying to salvage, trying to figure out what the insurance company's letter means to her.

"They're not saying yes or no," said Ms. Jackson. "They're just riding the middle."

Raymond Snyder and his family, heeding warnings to take cover in case of tornadoes, had just rushed to their basement the night of the storm to find water seeping in. Then suddenly, as they were trying to clean that up, the water turned muddy and rushed under the basement door and around the window casings.

Residents say they only want reimbursement for their losses. They say they figure that's fair.

"Somebody's going to have to pay for this," said Richard Rawlings Jr., "and we don't want it to be us."

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