County Vulnerable To Flooding

Damage in major event could be near $1 billion, MDE report says

October 16, 2005|By PHILLIP MCGOWAN | PHILLIP MCGOWAN,SUN REPORTER

Development over the past 20 years has done much to alter the face of Maryland, a reality that has prompted state researchers to weigh how the flooding risk has changed across the state.

A recently released report by the Maryland Department of the Environment reveals that Anne Arundel County, one of several counties experiencing explosive growth, is among the jurisdictions most vulnerable to flooding disaster.

According to research by MDE and Salisbury University, a 100-year flood could damage more than 7,000 buildings within the county - most of them residences - and cause nearly $1 billion in damage.

It's not just the more than 500 miles of county coastline along the Chesapeake Bay that are vulnerable.

The numerous streams, creeks and rivers - including the Patapsco and Patuxent - that wind through or border Anne Arundel County also put communities 20 miles inland at risk, said Gary Setzer, program administrator for the wetlands and waterways program at MDE.

"It has the potential to be hit by both sides," Setzer said, referring to Anne Arundel County.

Setzer said he expects officials from Maryland counties to use the report as a planning tool.

According to the report, a 100-year flood - an event with the likelihood of occurring once in a century - could cause $8.1 billion in damage across Maryland, with 86 percent of all building damage being done to residential structures.

While little can be done to protect existing homes within the flood plain, Anne Arundel County and state officials require that new homes or significant additions be built at least 1 foot above the flood plain, a standard determined by the federal government.

In Anne Arundel County, that means new homes and significant additions in these areas are required to be built anywhere from 7 to 11 feet above sea level, said Frank W. Ward, assistant director for the county's department of inspections and permits.

That standard is reflected in newly built homes on waterfront lots that were devastated in 2003 by Tropical Storm Isabel. Some rebuilt homes have been elevated on concrete posts.

Ward said that some state officials are discussing whether to demand that new homes be built as high as 3 feet above the flood plain.

One tool some county governments have employed is a state grant program that pays for the removal of homes within the flood plain.

Anne Arundel County used it to destroy 25 homes in 1984 and 1985. Mostly used from the early 1980s to the early 1990s, the grant was last tapped in 2002 by Howard and Frederick counties.

Setzer said the study's findings can help counties determine whether other buildings should be removed from flood-prone areas.

"The best way, if you know you have property repeatedly being flooded, is to move that property out of the way," he said.

phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com

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