Another try on Lilly Run flooding [Editorial]

The Aegis

The City of Havre de Grace has an ambitious plan to fix the decades-long problem with a four-year, $5 million to $6 million project to restore Lilly Run.

This won’t be the first attempt at harnessing what is typically a quiet running brook until it starts to rain, when a steady downpour or sudden thundershower can turn the stream into a raging, destructive torrent.

Whether the latest plan succeeds in being the last such effort at preventing periodic flooding remains to be seen; however, results from similar past efforts suggest there are long odds to overcome.

The new program’s first phase is in the engineering state and the proposal is being reviewed by the Maryland Department of the Environment, Army Corps of Engineers and Maryland Department fo Natural Resources. City Public Works Director Tim Whittie says all three agencies support the project.

Construction bids will likely be put out in the spring and work could start by next summer, he said last week.

The first phase begins near the intersection of Lewis Lane and Revolution Street, where Lilly Run “picks up huge flows” of water from nearly 40 acres of impervious surface, Whittiie said.

The second phase starts farther down Revolution Street, closer to the intersection with Juniata. The third phase is Tomahawk Field, where the run takes a sharp turn. The final phase is behind Harris Stadium, where a retention pond will be created to collect large amounts of water to reduce flooding.”

“It’s a stormwater management and water quality project,” Whittie said. “We want to restore the stream to its natural condition as best we can.”

And therein lies the rub, of course, because restoring Lilly Run to its natural condition would mean undoing some seven decades or more of development along its banks. And, it should be noted, there’s still considerable development taking place in the upper reaches of Lilly Run’s drainage area north and west of Route 40.

Much of the earlier development occurred in an era where there was less knowledge and even less concern about the impact of stormwater runoff on streams. Unfortunately, what was not understood then is the cumulative effect such activities have on watersheds.

Much of the lower Lilly Run watershed was developed right up to the stream banks or, in the case of where the stream flows along its final course to the Susquehanna, it was buried under Juniata Street. The proposed retention pond near the stadium is an effort to lessen the impact when too much water tries to flow through the pipe and the whole stream backs up with potential damaging effects.

Whittie and the rest of the city officialdom are certainly right to try to address this problem once again. With an new $100 million-plus high and middle school building on the horizon that will sit within proximity to the Lilly Run floodplain, doing nothing and keeping fingers crossed are no longer an option.

If $5 million to $6 million can lessen some of the impacts and the potential for catastrophic property damage – and possibly worse – this obviously will be money well spent. But it’s also a risky venture, at best, and should be viewed as such. As Lilly Run itself has so well demonstrated, when man and Mother Nature tussle, the latter ultimately prevails, often in unexpected ways.

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