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State of Maryland threatens to drain Hampstead pond; neighbors trying to save it

Maryland Department of Environment is threatening to drain a pond in Hampstead unless residents fix the damage it’s causing to a dam, which would cost some $150,000.

Aspen Run pond is home to dozens of species of fish and frequented by wildlife and nearby residents. It’s also useful to the fire department. The overflow of the pond was considered detrimental to the dam that sits on the other side, according to the state. And the environmental department is set on draining it if the neighbors do not fix it themselves.

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Mike Watson, a resident who owns part of the pond, said it overflowed last July and half the water leaked out. Watson said a neighbor called the state out of concern for the animals and eventually the state’s department of environment, or MDE, stepped in.

Mike Watson stands on the earthen dam that holds water in a large pond at the center of his Hampstead-area neighborhood Friday, March 5, 2021. A spillway was built on an adjacent property when the original overflow for the lake failed in July. The Maryland Department of the Environment is demanding that the dam be repaired at a cost of $150,000 or they will drain the lake, which is teeming with wildlife and an important fire suppression resource.
Mike Watson stands on the earthen dam that holds water in a large pond at the center of his Hampstead-area neighborhood Friday, March 5, 2021. A spillway was built on an adjacent property when the original overflow for the lake failed in July. The Maryland Department of the Environment is demanding that the dam be repaired at a cost of $150,000 or they will drain the lake, which is teeming with wildlife and an important fire suppression resource. (Dylan Slagle)

Jay Apperson, spokesperson for MDE, said in an email that MDE inspected the pond in July, found it unsafe and issued a notice of violations to the owners.

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“That required action includes removing blockages to the spillway, hiring an engineer, monitoring the pond water level and removing trees from the dam,” he said.

Apperson added that the owner is responsible for the maintenance, and making sure the dam runs safely to preserve life and natural resources. However, residents did not complete the steps in the time they were given.

“In early February, MDE followed up with notice that the department intends to breach the dam as an emergency action under its authority under state law,” Apperson said. “MDE will take this action to remove the dam if the owners do not expediently complete the task and repairs needed to ensure the safety of the dam.”

He added that failure to fix the dam would result in potential harm to downstream property owners and natural resources including an uncontrolled release of water and sediment into the pond, which has a designated trout stream that runs parallel of the pond. Apperson did not answer how long the residents had to fix the issue but did say MDE is aware of their desire to keep the pond.

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“However, the state is also responsible for ensuring an expedient resolution to the dam’s unsafe condition for protecting the local community and downstream property owners and water resources,” he said.

A county storm drain empties runoff water into a large pond at the center Mike Watson's Hampstead-area neighborhood Friday, March 5, 2021. A spillway was built on an adjacent property when the original overflow for the lake failed in July. The Maryland Department of the Environment is demanding that the dam be repaired at a cost of $150,000 or they will drain the lake, which is teeming with wildlife and an important fire suppression resource.
A county storm drain empties runoff water into a large pond at the center Mike Watson's Hampstead-area neighborhood Friday, March 5, 2021. A spillway was built on an adjacent property when the original overflow for the lake failed in July. The Maryland Department of the Environment is demanding that the dam be repaired at a cost of $150,000 or they will drain the lake, which is teeming with wildlife and an important fire suppression resource. (Dylan Slagle)

Watson said three-quarters of the pond was owned by a man who no longer lives there and cannot be contacted. He said it has been there for 50 years and none of the neighbors want to see it go. He added that it’s home to thousands of fish, turtles, frogs, beavers, muskrats, geese, ducks, deer, fox and a pair of eagles.

“We’ve got all these animals and if they drain it, it’s going to be a muddy mess,” he said.

Watson said he’s 74, retired and does not have $150,000 to fix the pond. Neither do the neighbors. A GoFundMe page, created by Hampstead resident, Jessica Hobbs, to ask the public for help to raise the money.

Losing the pond is not only concerning to the neighbors but to the Hampstead Volunteer Fire Company as well. Troy Hipsley, chief of the fire department, wrote a letter to the community to explain how the pond is crucial for putting out fires.

“The Aspen Run Pond is a critical fire suppression water resource in a non-hydrant area, the loss of this water resource could prove to have disastrous consequences,” Hipsley wrote in the letter. “This pond contains millions of gallons of water that we and other Carroll County Fire Stations count on for fire protection and has been retrofitted with a dry hydrant by property owners.”

Mike Watson is working with neighbors to save the large pond at the center of their Hampstead-area neighborhood Friday, March 5, 2021. The Maryland Department of the Environment is demanding that a dam be repaired at a cost of $150,000 or they will drain the lake, which is teeming with wildlife and an important fire suppression resource.
Mike Watson is working with neighbors to save the large pond at the center of their Hampstead-area neighborhood Friday, March 5, 2021. The Maryland Department of the Environment is demanding that a dam be repaired at a cost of $150,000 or they will drain the lake, which is teeming with wildlife and an important fire suppression resource. (Dylan Slagle)

He explained that a dry hydrant is a permanently installed pipe below the water surface with a strainer on the end to prevent debris from entering the pipe. Fire engines can connect to the other end. Hipsley called the access a time saver “which is critical when dealing with a fire.”

He said in an interview that without the pond they would rely on the water the trucks can carry and would have to call in more trucks if they run out. Another option is to connect to a hydrant 1.6 miles way.

“Anytime we add things like time or distance, that could have an adverse impact on the incident,” he said, adding that going further away could risk car accidents or mechanical problems.

Hipsley said this has happened before. Cascade Lake that sits nearby and was used for swimming was drained by the state.

“That proved to be too costly of a repair for a property owner,” he said.

The fire chief said the letter is as far as the fire company can go on the issue since it’s a private matter and requires a “delicate balance.” He noted how important the issue is and how productive the neighbors are being.

“By no means will this project be easy, but we are dedicated to saving and preserving the lake, so it can continue to be a refuge for wildlife while supporting the safety of our community,” the GoFundMe page read.

Neighbors, from left, Ryan and Chris Kvech and Sawyer Strauther pull a canoe up on Mike Watson's Hampstead-area property Friday, March 5, 2021. The Maryland Department of the Environment is demanding that the dam impounding the large pond, shared by Watson and another property owner who can't be located, be repaired at a cost of $150,000 or they will drain the lake, which is teeming with wildlife and an important fire suppression resource.
Neighbors, from left, Ryan and Chris Kvech and Sawyer Strauther pull a canoe up on Mike Watson's Hampstead-area property Friday, March 5, 2021. The Maryland Department of the Environment is demanding that the dam impounding the large pond, shared by Watson and another property owner who can't be located, be repaired at a cost of $150,000 or they will drain the lake, which is teeming with wildlife and an important fire suppression resource. (Dylan Slagle)

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