Fissure opens up near top of park Federal Hill erosion after renovation work stumps city officials

July 12, 1996|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

A year after the city and state spent $1.4 million to stabilize Federal Hill, engineers are working to discover the source of water that caused a long fissure to open up on the slope near the top.

The fissure, which is nearly 90 feet long, is clearly visible from the foot of Federal Hill, the landmark overlooking the Inner Harbor where Baltimoreans celebrated Maryland's ratification of the Constitution in 1788.

The fissure was discovered in October when parks officials were examining a photograph of the renovated Federal Hill. It became more pronounced after the wet spring, said Gennady Schwartz, chief of capital development for the city Department of Recreation and Parks, who supervised the project and is working to repair the erosion.

The department is working with the two firms, RK & K Engineering and Schnabel Engineering Associates, which had contracts to design the stabilization work in the park renovation that was completed last July.

"We're just trying to understand why it happened and come up with how to repair the slide," Schwartz said. The engineering firms have been cooperative and are performing the follow-up work free.

City officials worked closely with Federal Hill residents and their neighborhood associations in planning the redesign and have kept them informed as they repair the erosion.

"The community certainly is disappointed," said Doug Franz, a board member of the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association and chairman of the renovation committee.

"I suppose there's a failure in the drainage system, but that's yet to be determined," he said. But he has been pleased by the working relationship he has had with the city's parks department, both during the renovation and now during this repair.

"It's been a cooperative effort that's gone real well," he said.

"I have complete confidence that it will be fixed," said Peggy Stansbury, a past president of the Federal Hill Garden Club who participated in the redesign process.

"It's a shame because of all that time and effort and dollars that went into it," she said. "It is a historic park, and we need to take care of it."

What is clear is that the slide was caused by water.

"In order for the earth to slide, you need water," Schwartz said. "It wouldn't slide on its own.

"The question is where the water is coming from."

Also mystifying is why the erosion is only on the upper slope of Federal Hill.

"We used the same method on the bottom slope, and it was fine," Schwartz said.

Recreation and parks engineers drilled for ground water and found nothing, Schwartz said. They also resurveyed the hill.

Engineers borrowed a tiny camera from the Department of Public Works that can fit inside a pipe and detect any cracks that might be causing water seepage.

"If a pipe is broken and cracked, it'll give you the inside information," Schwartz said.

But the camera broke about six weeks ago and had to be sent to Florida for repairs. It arrived back in Baltimore this week, and crews were at Federal Hill yesterday morning peering through the pipes.

Schwartz said they found a broken pipe, but it is not clear whether that caused the erosion or the erosion broke the pipe.

Parks officials have a videotape of the pipe exploration and will examine it in the coming days. Schwartz said he will meet with the engineering contractors early next week to review the data.

For now, the erosion seems to have stabilized and there has been no recent slippage, Schwartz said. And he is confident the mystery of why it happened will be solved.

"We're trying to find the solution as soon as possible," he said. "As a city, we spent a sufficient amount of money for people to enjoy the beautiful slopes."

Pub Date: 7/12/96

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