County pressures builder to remedy runoff problem Neighbors seek end to erosion

July 31, 1996|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

When Shelly and David Sturtz bought their house in the Running Deer development near Gamber last fall, they did not expect to own waterfront property.

But whenever it rains, a torrent of water nearly a foot deep crosses their front yard, angles toward a neighbor's house and cuts a swath through the back yard to a spring in a ravine about 300 yards away.

On sunny days, the Sturtz yard looks as if an 18-wheeler has driven through through it. Parallel ruts created by the runoff from steep yards higher up in the development are about 3 feet wide and 6 to 8 inches deep.

Ms. Sturtz and her neighbors share a driveway at the end of Knox Court and have been trying for months to get the developer or the county to remedy a storm water management plan gone awry.

Their efforts are beginning to bear fruit.

An official from the Maryland Department of the Environment visited the site at their invitation last week and gave residents their first piece of good news.

"We will be pushing the developer to stabilize the erosion," William F. Limpert, district manager for inspection and compliance, told residents. "It is illegal to leave soil where it is likely to wash off. I've seen much, much worse, but it needs to be stopped. I'm sure the county will follow through to stop the pollution."

County officials took preliminary steps to do that Monday, when the Public Works Department revoked the remaining $15,000 of developer Marvin Clarke's performance bond. The county plans to use some or all of that money to remedy the problem.

Any money left over would be returned to Clarke minus a 15 percent deduction -- $2,225 -- for administrative costs. If the cost of stabilizing the erosion exceeds $15,000, Clarke will be billed for the remainder, said J. Michael Evans, the county public works director.

Monday's revocation of the performance bond was the first in his yearlong tenure as director, Evans said.

The preferred solution is for the developer to alleviate the problem. "They have the equipment, money and permits" to do the job, he said, adding, "We work very hard with developers to get them to correct their mistakes."

In this instance, the developer had asked for extra time to submit a plan for dealing with the erosion, Evans said. When the county received the request Friday afternoon, the plan was unacceptable, Evans said.

Clark R. Shaffer, the attorney representing the developer, said his clients -- a farm couple and their son -- "remain willing to attempt to find a solution to make the drainage system work and believe such a solution can be found."

"For the present, at least, we will continue to look to work out a solution," Shaffer said. "We hope that the county does not choose to build a different and more expensive system than the one they approved. We now believe we have a better way that will stabilize the area."

Residents, who met at the home of Tonya Semones to complain to officials and show them a videotape of the swift, deep runoff after a June 11 rain, are not so sure.

When county officials suggested that residents might want to the try latest remedy proposed by Clarke -- laying sod on yards and securing it with an environmental mesh -- residents balked.

"I've lost faith in the county," Semones said. "I am mad. M-A-D. They shouldn't experiment with my life and the lives of my children."

Sturtz said the development has been graded and seeded four times since October and that hay bales have been stacked in the path of the runoff, but to no avail.

James E. Slater Jr., the county environmental chief, told residents that meshed sodding might work. "As long as the yards are not stabilized, water is going to go downhill," he said. The amount of water in the runoff "should decrease with every blade of grass that comes in."

But grass is not coming in, residents said.

"My yard was regraded yesterday," said Debbie Wiedecker. "It's going to wash out in the next thunderstorm."

Evans, who met with Sturtz and Hickey Monday morning, proposes installing a system of underground pipes and ditches called inlets that would carry runoff water underneath the Sturtz and Hickey properties rather than across them.

Although it is less elaborate and less expensive than the underground system a county engineer outlined for residents June 28, "we like the idea," Sturtz said. "The county realized we weren't going to go away."

Evans said he expects to have a final design ready for residents' approval in about two weeks.

Pub Date: 7/31/96

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