Complaints, snow remain

Weather: Area residents, bristling over the pace of snow removal, now brace for possible flooding during the weekend.

The Snowstorm of 2003

February 22, 2003|By Gail Gibson and Doug Donovan | Gail Gibson and Doug Donovan,SUN STAFF

Mild temperatures and light rain chipped away yesterday at what was left of Baltimore's largest recorded snowstorm, but commuter woes persisted a day after Mayor Martin O'Malley had promised that all city roads would be passable.

As city residents continued shoveling out cars and defending parking spaces with folding chairs, flags and hand-lettered signs, the region braced for worse problems from a mix of fast-melting snow and weekend rains. But the National Weather Service said late yesterday that it did not expect major weekend flooding.

After a week of nonstop snow removal, local governments also began tallying the multimillion-dollar cost of the storm. Some signs of normality have begun to emerge -- in Baltimore, garbage and recycling pickup is scheduled to resume Monday, and schools across the region are preparing to reopen Monday after the week's surprise vacation.

Many city side streets remained covered in snow, however, fueling complaints from angry residents who faced slow commutes or, in some instances, still struggled to get their cars back on the road. Complaints doubled at the city's nonemergency 311 call center this week, as the mayor again pleaded yesterday for the public's patience.

"This isn't something where we're popping champagne corks and congratulating ourselves for what we have done so far," O'Malley said yesterday. "I can't be satisfied until every street is dug out. Considering that we're up against the largest snowfall in history, I'm pleased with the efforts we're making."

He added, "This is a constant battle."

Across Maryland, weary work crews are prepared for a second blow from potential weekend flooding. But Scott Kroczynski of the National Weather Service Middle Atlantic River Forecast Center said he is not predicting major flooding for the Susquehanna or Potomac rivers.

"This is not going to be a huge event. It's a fast-moving storm," he said.

Kroczynski said the forecast model shows about 1 1/2 inches of rain falling over the Potomac Basin, with the crest of high water reaching Little Falls -- near the Maryland-District of Columbia border -- by Monday evening.

The flood stage there is 10 feet, and the forecast calls for a crest of 10 feet to 12 feet.

Residents were watching the skies yesterday in the tiny village of Detour, which sits at the lowest point on the banks of Double Pipe Creek on the border of Carroll and Frederick counties. Occasional floods are a way of life here, and residents say they are accustomed to carting valuables up from their basements and moving treasured belongings to second-story rooms whenever there is a threat of high water.

"If conditions warrant it, we'll establish a bridge watch," said George Thomas, Carroll County's assistant director of emergency management. "We'll check the bridge on an hourly basis, if we need to, to make sure that debris is not getting lodged against any spans. If we can keep the water flowing under that bridge, we should be in pretty good shape."

Others took a more pragmatic view of the forecast.

"I'm too old to worry," said Roger Atkins, 83, a 20-year Detour resident who was shoveling snow in yesterday's light rain. "A flood isn't in our control. We should control what we can control -- our economy, our peace -- and let God worry about the floods."

Biologists from the Department of Natural Resources took flood precautions. They bolted netting and mesh over the waters at the Albert Powell Fish Hatchery near Hagerstown, hoping to save hundreds of thousands of trout earmarked for Maryland streams and ponds.

In the floods that followed the region's severe snowstorm in 1996, Beaver Creek, which feeds the hatchery's cement troughs, flooded its banks and washed fish into the parking lot, a loss of about 80,000 trout -- nearly all of Maryland's 1997 stock.

"We have nearly a million fish on site right now, a good part of this year's stock and all of next year's stock," said Bob Lunsford, a biologist with the freshwater fisheries service. "We're hoping this is merely a precaution."

Flooding would push higher what has become an expensive weather bill for the region. In Baltimore County, officials estimated yesterday that about $3 million has been spent to clear about 8,300 county-maintained roads.

In Baltimore, the city has spent more than $2 million on snow removal for this storm -- the $1.5 million allocated to snow removal in the city's budget was spent before last weekend's storm arrived.

The city has been paying in other ways, too. Baltimore's 311 call center logged 30,786 complaints between Sunday and Thursday, an average of 6,157 each day. Typically, the call center receives an average of 2,500 to 3,000 calls each day, said Lisa Allen, the center's director.

Still, the high tab has not bought happiness in many corners of Baltimore.

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