Summer flooding spurs renewed calls for Herring Run improvements, action on Six Bridge Trail

Mark Cyzyk said his family chose their brick house in Towson’s Overbrook neighborhood 12 years ago for the good schools and the charming little stream that babbled underneath a “cute little driveway bridge” out front. For years, Herring Run trickled along peacefully. Then, five years ago, the flooding started, he said.

For the first time in anyone’s memory, the tree-lined cul-de-sac filled with water, totaling cars and washing through homes. Also for the first time, the water hit the bridge that connects his home to the road, Cyzyk said.

Since then, Cyzyk said, the cul-de-sac has flooded regularly — most recently on Aug 13, when, for the first time, he watched his driveway bridge become submerged in the flooded stream.

According to the National Weather Service, rainfall in Baltimore was higher than usual every month this summer. July was the wettest month on record at 16.73 inches, according to the agency, breaking a record set in 1889.

This year’s rainy summer, which brought the normally tranquil Herring Run gushing over bridges like Cyzyk’s, has spurred renewed calls for stream restoration projects in the eastern Towson communities through which it runs.

“Right now, it’s really just a tremendous hassle,” said Bruce Johnson, president of the Overbrook Community Association.

Those calls for action could culminate in October, during a public input meeting on Baltimore County’s capital budget, which the area’s County Council member, David Marks, is encouraging community members to attend. Marks said he will be requesting funding for engineering work for improvements to Herring Run in the next budget and that community support could help get it passed. Cyzyk said he will be there.

Two branches of Herring Run converge in Overbrook and then flow southeast through a culvert, or tunnel, under Stevenson Lane. During heavy rains, the culvert is too small for the flow of water, and the stream backs up into Overbrook, Johnson said.

In 2016, the county purchased and razed six flood-prone houses in Overbrook to address the issue, leaving behind open stretches of grass that fill with water during storms. But community members say that has not solved the problem.

“You don’t just tell people it’s a flood plain and walk away,” said David Riley, president of the Knollwood-Donnybrook Improvement Association, which neighbors Overbrook.

Riley leads the Six Bridge Trail project task force, which seeks to create a greenway along Herring Run’s path, north from Stevenson Lane and past Towson High School. The trail project, as Riley envisions it, would create recreational space, promote walkable living and shore up and protect Herring Run.

After the rains that flooded Cyzyk’s bridge, Riley posted photos of the flooding on Facebook, writing: “There is no plan for the management of the flood zone in order to protect other houses and bridges in the immediate area.” According to Riley, projects being spearheaded by the Six Bridge Trail team are all the more important in the wake of these floods.

One such project is already underway: a study by Blue Water Baltimore, solicited by the Knollwood Association, investigating ways to improve the flood plain in Overbrook by using the empty space left behind by the flood-prone homes the county razed. That study is expected to be complete in the spring. In March, Ashley Traut, senior manager for innovative stormwater projects at Blue Water Baltimore, said the group was envisioning solutions like native plantings and rain gardens.

Not only is Cyzyk’s house isolated during storms, but, Cyzyk said, the bridge is being eroded by water. It is now so weak that Baltimore County code enforcement told them not to drive across the bridge, he said. They carry groceries across by foot.

Johnson said the rest of Overbrook is also affected. Before every big storm, residents have to move their cars uphill, lest they be totaled by rising water.

And Marks said that Cyzyk’s bridge is not the only one at risk if flooding keeps occurring.

“Stabilizing the Herring Run is my top priority in eastern Towson,” Marks said in an email. “Not only does the flooding affect private properties, but it is jeopardizing the structural integrity of the bridges near Towson High School.”

Cyzyk is responsible for the bridge, which is part of his property. But, he said, repairing or replacing it is “out of the scope of normal homeownership maintenance.” Contractors gave him estimates of upward of $75,000 for repairs and more than $150,000 to replace the bridge. And then, without stream restoration, the bridge could be damaged by floodwaters again.

The Six Bridge Trail, as Riley envisions it, largely already exists in the form of informal mud trails on county-owned land near the stream. Multiple residents said the informal trails are used daily, especially by children walking to Towson High School.

The only private property the trail would pass through is Cyzyk’s, and if part of the trail project includes restoring Cyzyk’s bridge, he said he is on board.

“As far as traffic foot traffic, people coming through, they’ve always come through. That’s how you get to the trail,” he said. “I sort of feel like we might as well make it official.”

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