Nearly two years of dickering over whether to free the Muddy Bridge Branch from its concrete culvert in Glen Burnie have ended with the stream still in a man-made channel.
"We didn't get enough right of entries to put the project together," said Tom Andrews, the county's chief land-use officer and a proponent of freeing the stream.
Four of 13 homeowners along Longwood Avenue in the Fernglen Manor community agreed to give the county the necessary easements on up to 20 feet of land, he said. Other homeowners had wanted the culvert cleaned out, but county public works officials said they were unable to obtain the federal permits required to dredge the stream.
The standoff is likely to result in a worsening flood situation for Fernglen Manor residents.
"We won, but we lost. They are not going to do anything else," said Carolyn Stallings, one of the residents. "Eventually, the water is going to come up and flood, and the county is not going to do anything about it. They are saying it is their way or no way, so it is no way."
Problems with the stream began in the late 1970s during expansion of Baltimore-Washington International Airport upstream and a development boom. Heavy rains would overwhelm the stream -- at the time, a 3-foot-wide tributary to Sawmill Creek -- causing the flooding of back yards and basements.
Ten years ago, the county Department of Public Works diverted the water to a 24-foot-wide culvert and filled in the streambed. Some residents deeded the edges of their yards to the county with the understanding that the county would keep the culvert clear.
The county dredged the culvert twice in the 1980s because it had filled with dirt eroded from upstream. Then, in 1989, with trees sprouting in the culvert, residents again asked the county to dredge. The county turned them down.
Environmental regulations changed, the culvert fell out of environmental favor, and the Army Corps of Engineers said it would not do any maintenance dredging until the county had a long-term solution.
The solution starts upstream with a State Highway Administration project that will reduce erosion and restore Muddy Bridge Branch from BWI to just below Interstate 97. The county project was to pick up the stream below the highway to near where it enters Sawmill Creek at Dorsey Road. Longwood Avenue residents will benefit from the upstream work, but their situation is likely to worsen eventually.
"They are going to keep getting wet back yards. The channel will continue to move around," Mr. Andrews said. "They are upset, and I understand why. They can't get what they want, and I understand that, but that is the way of the world right now."