For decades, sailors and vendors have flocked to Annapolis in the fall for what’s billed as the world’s largest in-water sailboat show.
But some threatened not to return after last year’s event.
Flooding in the area surrounding City Dock forced visitors to trudge through water when making their way to boats and between booths. Some vendors saw their goods damaged in what has become a regular nuisance in downtown Annapolis.
Between 1957 and 1963, Annapolis averaged roughly four floods each year. That jumped to nearly 40 floods each year between 2007 and 2013, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“It’s becoming a more and more serious problem,” said Paul Jacobs, president of the Annapolis Boat Shows. “Our boat show is being flooded out fairly regularly.”
The organization has determined it must spend nearly $100,000 to build raised walkways around the boat show area. They’re hoping that will keep people’s feet dry and their property safe should downtown flooding occur during the show. The sailboat show is scheduled to run from Oct. 4 to Oct. 8, and the powerboat show goes from Oct. 11 to Oct. 14.
“We will rise above, so to speak,” Jacobs said.
The metal and wood structures will cover large swaths of Dock Street, Newman Street and Ego Alley. In some areas, the flooring will be elevated roughly a foot and a half above the streets and sidewalks.
In the past, the group has built bits of raised flooring — along with laying out plywood and pallets — as a response to flooding. But previous efforts have been far less extensive and far less expensive than what’s anticipated for this year, when Jacobs said they will “deck over the entire area.”
That’ll present some logistical issues. Jacobs said the Annapolis Boat Shows will also have to consider how to maintain emergency access.
“Now we have to engineer a floor that people can walk across, but that can also be instantly removed in an emergency of any kind,” he said.
When the time comes, the group will have to build the sprawling structure quickly. The group’s lease on the show area begins at 12:01 a.m. Oct. 1, and they will have three days to get the site ready. Starting around midnight, Jacobs said, a crew will move in and “they’ll be doing nothing but flooring.”
Jacobs said organizers know the flooring is a temporary fix. The real fix, he said, revolves around plans being drafted by the Department of Public Works and “the systems they’re engineering to get the flooding reduced.”
Public works director David Jarrell said the city has been in discussions with Jacobs about the plan to deck the City Dock area during the boat show. He said he understands people affiliated with the event wish the city’s flood mitigation plans were already completed, so that such a costly project wouldn’t be necessary.
The city is in the midst of crafting a two-step solution for nuisance flooding downtown. For phase one, Annapolis is working on a $6.5 million flood mitigation system that targets the Compromise Street section of the area. The city plans to build a new pumping station to prevent backflow from storm drains, which sends water into the streets.
The second phase — which will target the Dock Street side — is expected to begin in a few years, Jarrell said. This is the work that will more directly impact flooding in the area around the boat show. It’s expected to cost about $3.5 million.
The first portion will be funded through a combination of city, state and federal dollars. The city is still waiting for funding to be finalized for the second phase.
“The city will kick in some again, but we need to try and get the state to try and fund that,” Jarrell said. “We’re hopeful they’ll help us fund the Dock Street side.”
Jacobs knows it’ll take some time before they have a more permanent fix for flooding during the boat show.
“In the meantime,” he said, “we’ll deal with it any way we can.”