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County presents options for fighting flooding in Wiltondale

Baltimore County officials including Public Works Chief of Engineering and Construction Steve Walsh, standing against the wall at left, present their findings from a study on flooding to Wiltondale residents Tuesday.
Baltimore County officials including Public Works Chief of Engineering and Construction Steve Walsh, standing against the wall at left, present their findings from a study on flooding to Wiltondale residents Tuesday. (Staff photo by Larry Perl)

Baltimore County officials are giving Wiltondale residents seven options of possible plans to combat flooding in the neighborhood, ranging in cost from $764,000 to more than $3 million.

Now, residents must decide which option to lobby for — but with no guarantee of when the county would fund their choice, if ever.

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And the option that one Public Works official likes best would involve the county purchasing and removing six houses in a flood plain, on Stevenson Lane and Worthington Road, which means those residents would lose their homes.

In fact, said Mark Van Bavel, of Stevenson Lane, "There's only one plan that doesn't take my house."

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Van Bavel, an attorney, and his wife, Lisa, who works for the Nordstrom department store in the Towson Town Center mall, bought their house about 13 months ago. Now, Mark Van Bavel said, he is seriously considering letting the county claim the house if it would help the community and if the couple and the county could agree on compensation.

Option 1, and the plan Steven Walsh, chief of engineering and construction for the county Department of Public Works prefers, calls for the county to buy and remove houses at 806, 808 and 810 Stevenson Lane, and at 317, 319 and 321 Worthington Road.

The Van Bavels were among more than 30 Wiltondale residents who came to the Jefferson Building in downtown Towson on Tuesday, April 21 for a long-awaited presentation by the county and its engineering consultant, McCormick Taylor, of the findings of a 2,300-page, $100,000 study of the flooding issues.

The main problem is that Herring Run Stream moves through the neighborhood in two directions and converges at a narrow culvert, or tunnel, under Stevenson Lane at the Country Club of Maryland, said Kristin Kluga, a longtime resident of Worthington Road, who has been leading lobbying efforts for the county to address the problems. Kluga said flash flooding occurs during heavy rains and the culvert is too small to handle it, causing backups.

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The Van Bavel house in particular sits at ground zero of the flooding problem, where a tributary to the north, a channel to the east and Stevenson Lane to the south all converge at the Stevenson Lane Culvert, Kluga and county officials said.

Kluga also said that water damage has taken a toll on a bridge at the end of Worthington Road over the stream that connects two houses, causing a bridge abutment to collapse. Also, a gas pipe near the bridge has been exposed, she said.

Flooding has damaged houses, cars, sheds and garages, eroded stream banks, and washed away trash, recycling and small equipment, she said.

The bridge, a main walking route for students and other residents to access Towson High School, Stoneleigh Elementary and the Wiltondale Pool and park, has been declared by the county to be "undriveable," she said.

Kluga wants the bridge repaired, the culvert widened and the banks restored.

The April 21 meeting was a continuation of a Capital Improvement Program meeting that county officials had with residents in 2012, and which led the county to fund the study. A less formal study was done in 1991, county officials said.

Several residents Tuesday pressed Walsh and a panel of engineers to say which of the seven options they would recommend, and which would be the most likely candidate for funding.

But Walsh said it was up to the residents.

"None of us can answer that question, what's most likely to get funded," Walsh said. "You can't make blanket statements when it comes to funding and projects."

Walsh conceded that lower-cost options are easier to fund, but warned residents at the meeting that no matter which option they choose, funding would be uncertain as the county tries to fund a myriad of projects in the capital budget.

"You've got to lobby for the project against every other project in the county," Walsh said. "We've seen projects in the pipeline for years and years and years."

Nancy Surosky, special assistant to County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, said the residents can take heart from the fact that Kamenetz was willing to undertake a study, which was placed on a CD-ROM that each resident at the meeting received, along with a fact sheet of the findings.

"I can say the county executive was open enough ... to fund the study," Surosky said. "I think what [Walsh] and those folks are saying is, now, it's up to you."

"What options do you guys like?" Kluga asked.

"Buying all the houses out of the flood plain, to me, that's an awesome option," Walsh replied.

But that plan, labeled by the county as Option 1, is the most expensive, with an estimated price tag of $3.08 million.

Other options include increasing the size of the Stevenson Lane and Weatherbee Road culverts, removing or shifting existing retaining walls, and adding a storm drain system from the tributary at Stevenson Lane to Herring Run at Stevenson Lane. The cheapest option is to remove the retaining walls and the Van Bavel house to grade the flood plain.

Residents whose homes aren't recommended for removal said they too are having serious flooding, erosion and access problems.

"I've lost a good portion of my yard and I face a 15-foot cliff," said Gail Robinson, of Stevenson Lane. "It's already taken my property line 6 feet back."

"I totally agree you have an issue there," said engineer Chris Brooks, an associate for McCormick Taylor.

Tammy Cyzyk, of Worthington Road, was in tears as she talked about the "falling down" bridge that separates her house from a cul-de-sac.

"This bridge has been completely under water" in past storms," she said. "We can't even drive over to our house. We have to park in the cul-de-sac and walk over the bridge."

Cyzyk said her basement floods several times a year and she worries what would happen if emergency personnel had to get to her house.

"We can't use this bridge," she said.

Kluga said after the meeting that she was pleased by the county's presentation, although she understands that "the county won't do anything unless we lobby for it."

Kluga said the next step is to organize a special meeting of the community, probably this summer, to decide which option to press for, and that she personally has no preferred option in mind

She is happy for now that the county is listening to the residents.

"I've made a lot of inroads and made a lot of connections," she said. "The lines of communication are open, so we're going to forge ahead."

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