Demolition of Cockeysville distillery signals start of flood plain mitigation

About 50 people showed up early Sunday to witness demolition of an already collapsing distillery warehouse in Cockeysville — the first step in a plan Baltimore County officials say will help mitigate flooding in the area and, they hope, encourage property owners to stay.

"For the most part, it seems like the majority of the owners are all in and want to continue going forward," Councilman Todd Huff, who represents the 3rd District including Cockeysville, said. "There's a couple of them that would rather try to stay. Hopefully, by doing this piece that we are doing, it can solve some of the problem."

The area at the corner of Beaver Run Lane and York Road in Cockeysville has been hit hard by flooding in the last two years. The area flooded twice in the summer of 2011— once in July when lumber from a nearby plant clogged a pipe, and again in September when the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee caused flash flooding all over Baltimore County.

The area also flooded during Superstorm Sandy in October 2012. But by that point, efforts to secure Federal Emergency Management Agency funds were already under way. Huff said he had approached the county's Department of Public Works after the July 2011 flooding to ask for a solution.

In January, Baltimore County secured a $3.42 million FEMA grant to be used to buy the six affected properties in the flood plain with $453,663 going to the purchase of the warehouse property. A private or county match of 25 percent or $1.14 million to supplement the demolitions is required for the grant, a cost county officials said in January would be passed on to the property owners.

The whiskey warehouse, which had a wall collapse last fall during Superstorm Sandy, was purchased by Baltimore County late last month.

Sunday's demolition was just a small part of the mitigation process at the site, officials said. The area behind the warehouse is littered with debris, and the building's previous owner filled the area in with topsoil to make the ground less porous.

After past floods, local business owners have blamed the man-made embankment and rusted-out heavy machinery behind the distillery along Beaver Dam Run as a contributor to the excessive flooding.

John Heagy, whose business, John Heagy Remodeling, is next door to the warehouse, said the changes to the stream bank altered the flow of the river and contributed to the flood. County officials said in a news release announcing the demolition that the property would also be regrarded to its natural grade, and the stream bank would be restored to its original state.

Once the demolition is complete, grass and trees will be planted, and the area will be left in its natural state, county spokeswoman Ellen Kobler said.

"I think it's going to make a difference," Heagy said. "Who wouldn't want to have a park as their neighbor?"

Five other properties in the area are also eligible for the grant money, though many said in January that the initial offer was too low to accept. Heagy's landlord, Mike O'Shea, said he had no plans to sell.

Still, O'Shea, who has owned the one-story building at 10921 York Road for over three decades, said the demolition would likely help mitigate the problem.

"It should help, provided they do the job they're supposed to do, which is take the south side of that warehouse down to stream level," O'Shea, who along with partner James Anton, own the building that houses John Heagy Remodeling, a Uhaul store and Side Street Café.

Huff said Sunday's demolition was the first of many phases in the process, with the next step possibly being the second whiskey distillery building on the site. Kobler said the county could not speculate on what building would be next because negotiations are ongoing.

Kobler said the county has until Oct. 5, 2015, to spend the money before the grant runs out. But until more properties are purchased, the surrounding property owners hope the first step will be enough.

"Hopefully, with that thing torn out of there and with the dirt removed, maybe we'll have some peace in that valley," O'Shea said. "Maybe."

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