Waterfront offers joy, wealth, peril

Geography: The Chesapeake Bay and numerous rivers grace Anne Arundel, but Isabel showed the downside of maritime life.

May 16, 2004|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

Waterfront communities in Anne Arundel County have had a difficult year recovering from Tropical Storm Isabel, which pounded the coast with high winds and a powerful storm surge.

Water is a major facet of life in the county, which features 544 miles of shoreline along the Chesapeake Bay, seven rivers and scores of tributaries. No house in Anne Arundel is more than 10 miles from water.

The coastline has fueled a hot real estate market - agents say waterfront homes in the county sell for an average of more than $1 million - and thriving marina and tourist industries. But during Isabel, residents and business owners experienced the downside of living near so much water. They said the storm was the worst in their memory.

"We've had a very difficult hand dealt to us, but I think everybody has banded together and made it the best it could be," said Hamilton Chaney, who along with his father owns and manages Herrington Harbour North, a large marina in Deale that sustained millions of dollars in storm damage.

A month before boating season was to begin, cranes and bulldozers outnumbered boats at Herrington Harbour's piers, which still were being rebuilt. Such images have become familiar this year.

From Shady Side in the south to Pasadena in the north, signs of rebuilding abound, with parts of houses and docks still in splinters and contractors seemingly at work on every street.

County officials estimate that more than 500 people remained unable to move back into their homes this spring. Dozens of families were still living in trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. About 2,600 people from the county applied for federal assistance in amounts ranging from $30,000 to $250,000. Thirteen people applied to have their houses bought out at market value and demolished by the federal government.

The Chesapeake shoreline from Highland Beach south eroded significantly during the storm.

"Our lives will never be the same," said Eileen Thaden, whose family is one of several living in FEMA trailers in Cedarhurst by the Bay.

Cedarhurst, which comprises about 400 homes, is one of many small communities along the waterfront that have avoided the gentrification typical of the shoreline around Annapolis. Residents say they're determined not to let the storm, which flooded streets and houses and shattered the community pier, drive them out.

"We've put a lot of time and money into our house, and we're not ready to start over," Thaden said.

Other communities slammed by Isabel included Arundel on the Bay, Bay Ridge, Highland Beach, Snug Harbor, Galesville, Deale and Fairhaven, all of which face the bay virtually without protection.

In Arundel on the Bay, a mixed-income community outside of Annapolis, boards still covered many windows half a year after the storm, and "for sale" signs hung on some of the more dilapidated properties.

At Pirate's Cove, a seafood restaurant on the waterfront in Galesville, photos showing the building nearly submerged by the storm are displayed prominently. The storm wrecked the pier outside the restaurant and pushed a wooden wall well into the dining area. The water was 4 feet deep inside, said owner Bob Platt, who estimated the cost of the damage at $400,000.

"It's by far the worst we've been through," said Platt.

The pictures inspire amazed chatter from visitors, but most of the restaurant was open within five days of Isabel.

Shoreline communities along the county's Magothy, Severn and South rivers were less affected by the storm, though many homeowners faced flood and wind damage. Those rivers feature some of the most valuable real estate in Maryland.

In traditionally working-class communities such as Herald Harbour and parts of Pasadena, sparkling mansions have popped up across the street from squat, two-room houses on postage-stamp lots.

Annapolis remains the focal point of the county's waterfront, with bustling waterfront restaurants and shops and almost 15,000 boats a year visiting the harbor. Isabel raised the harbor more than 7 feet and sent it cascading up Main Street, but most businesses in the city were able to reopen quickly.

The storm did set back several developments, including the planned office complex at the David Taylor Research Center, a former Navy compound that came into county possession a few years ago.

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