By Jon Meoli, email@example.com
3:58 PM EST, January 23, 2013
Baltimore County has secured $3.42 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency grant money to buy six properties in the Beaver Dam Run flood plain in Cockeysville for flood remediation purposes.
Some of the affected property owners, however, have indicated they'd rather take their chances and stay in the flood plain than take a bath by selling their property
"I don't like being in a flood plain, but I bought it knowing it was a flood plain," Tom Longo, who owns two of the six properties at York Road and Beaver Run Lane, said.
Many county officials believed the grant would be welcome news to landowners in the area. According to Assistant to the Director of Public Works Dave Thomas, the area has flooded three times in the last 18 months.
Several businesses were flooded out the first time in July 2011. Councilman Todd Huff's office then asked DPW to look at the property and try to identify a solution.
Thomas said a colleague at the Maryland Emergency Management Association could help secure the federal grant money. All of the Beaver Run Lane and York Road properties qualified for federal monies because they're insured under a national flood insurance program.
According to Thomas, FEMA sets aside money to buy problem properties as it's less expensive than paying for repeated damage claims.
But as the businesses cleaned up and got back to normal, a second flood washed out the properties along Beaver Run Lane and damaged those same businesses in September 2011.
At that point, the FEMA application was already under way. County planning and DPW staff went out to document the flooding with video cameras. The application was strong, and ultimately, successful.
Under the terms of the grant, 25 percent of the money needed to do flood plain remediation — which will be used to buy the buildings, demolish them and clear out the area of debris and excess dirt — must be provided from another source.
The additional $1.14 million needed is not available from the county, so those funds would ultimately have to come from the property and business owners' profits after selling their property, officials said. A portion of the total monies would also be used to help tenant businesses relocate, county officials said.
The County Council must vote to accept the FEMA grant. A vote was scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 22.
Longo, who owns the warehouse at 10 Beaver Run Lane and the lot that houses The Barnyard shed store at 11001 York Road, said the money being offered is simply not enough.
While Longo congratulated Thomas; Huff; and Huff's aide, C.R. Hogendorp, for their efforts to secure the grant, he said the $392,000 being offered through the grant is a little more than half what he paid for the land 20 years ago.
Fellow landowner Mike O'Shea said he and his business partner would not accept the FEMA money, either. O'Shea owns the building that houses Side Street Café and John Heagy Remodeling. John Heagy Remodeling refurbished Side Street after 3 feet of water ruined the interior during the September 2011 flood.
O'Shea's tenant and Side Street Café owner Ozzie Mehdizadeh was the public face of loss when the floods occurred. Mehdizadeh's café is only open for lunch, but has gained a loyal following in the past 13 years.
While the FEMA grant is meant to bail out the property owners, he's the one stuck bailing out his restaurant each time it rains. Mehdizadeh said the grant does little for the tenant business owners.
Like Longo, O'Shea congratulated Huff for his efforts but called the offered price "outrageous." Huff and Thomas said the building owners were part of the process to secure the funds but ultimately are not required to take the deal.
Property and business owners alike point to a section behind the old whiskey distillery building — which partially collapsed during Superstorm Sandy — as the cause of the area's flooding problems.
O'Shea said the area used to be a flood basin when Beaver Dam Run rose too high. But the area was filled with topsoil by a previous owner to make the ground more solid and as a result, the water now backs up both at York Road and a bridge that leads to the Mark Downs Furniture building.
Thomas said both the whiskey distillery and the accompanying barrel building next door, are two of the larger structures on the property and are cited as those which contribute most to the flooding. Both are held by banking institutions. Those banks are "definitely interested" in selling, Thomas said.
If just those two accept the money, Thomas said acquiring those properties would be "a huge step in a helpful direction." Should the buildings be bought and demolished, the riverbank could be "cleared and the trees would be allowed to grow," Thomas said.
According to Thomas, the grant can be amended later to use the remaining funds to better serve the area if the funds aren't totally used to buy and demolish properties. But despite the lack of participation from some of the affected property owners, Thomas said such a project has never been led by the county.
"I'm kind of hoping everyone's going to realize this is their chance to get out and recover some loss, because there's no guarantee that the next flood won't be even worse," Thomas said.
"If there's an incentive, that's what it is. You've come to the councilman, he's come to the administration, what can we do? We're fortunate to find this grant funding, and we have something on the table that could help everybody get out of an area that's subject to some hazard."