Flood-prone area might take four years to be fixed

At forum, officials and residents discuss solutions for watershed

December 10, 2006|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,Sun Reporter

The vulnerable Patapsco Road Watershed near Finksburg -- where a torrential funnel of water floods driveways and eats away at the road every time it storms -- will probably take four years to fully repair and correct the stream's flow, Carroll County officials said.

"We talk about this as a funnel because all the water flows to a point, down a 100-foot ravine," said Tom Devilbiss, chief of the county's bureau of resource management, who is overseeing the project. "It's quite a large watershed for such a small stream."

The affected 500-acre Patapsco Road Watershed begins east of Route 140 at Bethel Road and ends at Leppo Lane, where the north and west branches of the Patapsco River converge.

During heavy storms over the past two summers, Patapsco residents watched the rain-swollen Wildcat Creek rise up to 8 feet, flooding roads and forming lakes in their driveways. Residents said erosion has widened the creek by 8 to 12 feet over the past 20 years.

A dozen of the Patapsco property owners gathered at the Reese Fire Hall on Wednesday night to review plans that call for construction of storm-water management ponds and stream restoration.

First cousins Worth Bateman and Charles Blum said their family has lived in and farmed this section of the Patapsco Valley for almost 300 years.

"We love the valley down here, and we'd like to see it stay that way," Blum said. "I'm happy with the progress they're making, I just hope [the county] follows it through to the end."

The area is part of the fragile Upper Patapsco River watershed, nearly 15,000 acres that extends from Finksburg to Westminster to Hampstead, flowing into Liberty Reservoir along the Baltimore County line.

Devilbiss said ponds must be built first to contain storm water near Route 140, where development causes erosion and flooding downstream near Leppo Lane. Then the stream can be rebuilt.

"It's going to take a combination of managing the water and converging it better," Devilbiss told residents.

To control the stream's flow, the county may use gabion (wire cages filled with stones) to curb erosion, alter the stream's course or width and add vegetation to the area, Devilbiss said.

He asked residents to consult maps to clarify the boundaries of their individual parcels of land. He also asked them to sign licensing agreements to allow the county to start surveying their property to plan for the project.

The county should construct two large ponds to manage storm water run-off from surrounding development on the farm of Wilfred Hoff and further downstream on the Bateman property, Devilbiss said.

Such ponds will most likely be dry (except when it storms), so they don't become a breeding ground for mosquitoes associated with West Nile virus, Devilbiss said.

Short of damming Wildcat Creek and building big reservoirs, the ponds are the best the county can do, Devilbiss said.

State and federal environmental regulations would prohibit building dams and reservoirs.

Work on the project should begin after the first of the year, Devilbiss said, with funds officially coming in July.

Bateman asked whether construction would realistically begin in 2007.

"Actually digging dirt?" Devilbiss said. "We're not sure. We're looking at different avenues" of funding.

Blum said he worries that erosion will bring the stream dangerously close to his septic system, forcing him to vacate his home.

As the commissioners were briefed on the project, Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge worried about the long four-year time frame.

"The edge of the road has fallen off," Gouge said. "Why are we continuing to allow those obstructions in the stream? It's eroding our road."

Securing the appropriate state and federal funds -- including state Rural Legacy program funds for land preservation -- and constructing lasting solutions takes time, Devilbiss said.

"I wish we could just go out there and fix it like that," he said. "We can temporarily, but those real permanent fixes take time."


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