THE SCHMOKE administration is full of reasons why it can't make restitution to people whose homes were destroyed by a huge water main break a month ago:
The city can't set a precedent that might make it liable for future such catastrophes; an already-strapped government can't afford it; an act of God due to warmer weather, not city malfeasance, caused a shift in the earth that snapped the pipe.
That last excuse seems unusual given that 1) it is supposed to get warmer in Baltimore each spring, and 2) Maryland has had little fluctuation in temperature in 1997, with one of the warmer winters and cooler springs on record.
Here's one more cost Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and his counselors should consider: What is the price of doing nothing?
If Baltimore leaves low- and middle-income homeowners high and dry after a historic malfunction of the city's own infrastructure, unrelated to any negligence on the part of the homeowners, does it undermine some of the other efforts the city is making to rebuild its image and residential base?
The accident in East Baltimore on May 10, when a huge pipe ruptured in the middle of the night sending floodwaters gushing down Homewood Avenue, has been described as one of the worst such breaks ever in the city. Public Works Director George G. Balog said he had not seen anything like it in his 28 years with city government.
Damages were estimated at up to $3 million -- not an insignificant amount. But considering that property values ranged from only $5,000 to $30,000 in the affected neighborhood, replacement costs would have been steeper in pricier neighborhoods or in business districts (whose occupants would have the means and been more inclined to sue the city).
Baltimore is competing for the trust of residents, current and future. Local officials must do what is best for these flood victims. City government has a moral duty to restore their homes, even if no legal obligation exists.
Pub Date: 6/12/97