Restored after 1993 collapse, two banks of Cowhide Branch fail again

October 09, 1994|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

Two banks of Cowhide Branch, which was nearly obliterated in March 1993 when a storm-water dam by Annapolis Mall collapsed and sent a cascade of construction debris and sediment downstream, have collapsed again.

The contractor who restored a section of the damaged stream earlier this year spent last week rebuilding the banks, which were weakened after heavy midsummer rains.

The earlier reconstruction work was nearly completed when the storms struck.

Brightwater Inc., a Columbia firm, used uprooted tree trunks and other natural materials to rebuild 1,500 feet of Cowhide Branch.

Brightwater co-owner Robert Sheesley said that he had no way of predicting that those sections of the banks would fail and that he had not worked on them because they seemed stable after withstanding earlier rains.

Mr. Sheesley speculated that had the downpours occurred later, they might not have done so much damage because more shrubs and underbrush would have grown to protect the banks.

The project was Brightwater's first restoration project in fragile soils that are mostly clay and sand, Mr. Sheesley said.

"There's so much ground water from springs; the soil here is so weak in structure," he said.

The dam that failed was part of a project to control storm water runoff from Anne Arundel County's project to widen Bestgate Road and the expansion of Annapolis Mall.

County officials have blamed the collapse on faulty workmanship by the contractor who installed the pipe, P & J Contracting Co. The officials are negotiating with Fidelity & Deposit Co. of Maryland, which holds the bond, to recover the $275,000 the dam cost.

The contractor has filed for protection from creditors under federal bankruptcy law.

Brightwater was paid $100,000 to restore the stream and monitor it for five years. Anne Arundel is not paying extra for the repairs, said Lisa Ritter, spokeswoman for the county land use office.

Mr. Sheesley said the banks were stabilizing naturally, but the collapse fueled criticism from some who were already skeptical of the plan.

"I'm not really that surprised," said Geoff Thomas, a member of the Weems Creek Conservancy, who had predicted that Brightwater's restoration work would not be enough to hold the banks.

Steve Carr, a former Severn River Association officer, argued that the project was not necessary.

"I said, and I still think, this money could have been better spent on maintaining existing storm water management devices around the county and letting this system heal itself," Mr. Carr said. "I wish it would work."

Mr. Sheesley said he discovered the problem after a routine monitoring visit.

People who live along Weems Creek reported seeing murky water after torrential storms that dumped several inches of rain on the ground in a brief time, Mr. Thomas said.

One stretch of a steep bank that slumped altered the course of the creek.

Mr. Sheesley decided to leave the bend that it created and drive huge tree trunks into the bank to help stabilize it.

He will plant water-loving trees and shrubs along the bank so that their roots will trap the soil long before the tree trucks and logs decompose, Mr. Sheesley said.

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