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Columbia townhouse association wins grant to take step toward restoring stream

When Alexandra Adkins looked out the window of her Columbia townhouse at the nearby stream and took walks along its banks with her dog, Titan, she didn't like what she saw.

The streambed was eroded, the banks looked like scoured cliffs with roots of leaning trees dangling above the water, and muddy channels sliced into the stream.

That was last winter, as Adkins took walks as a break from studying for the Maryland bar exam. Once she took the exam in February — and passed — she turned her attention to the nameless stream that's part of the headwaters of Wilde Lake, seeking information about possible restoration.

This week, her initiative paid off, as the Harper's Glen Townhouse Association received a grant of $40,000 from the Chesapeake Bay Trust to design a restoration plan for 750 feet of the stream along a bike path. It's now called the HGTA Healthy Stream Project.

"Most people take the bar exam and go on vacation, but my husband said, 'No, my wife goes and writes a grant,' " Adkins said.

Working with colleagues on the association board, the trust, the Columbia Association and others — and consulting a relative who is a grant writer — she filed the request in March, explaining a desire to stem the erosion damage, repair the habitat and remove the invasive plants there.

The grant will enable the community of about 133 townhouses to hire Biohabitats, a Baltimore-based company, to devise a plan to fix the stream. The plan must pass muster with federal, state and local permitting agencies. Down the road, the association hopes to seek help from the Columbia Association to fund it.

Joe Berg, senior ecologist at Biohabitats, said the company will evaluate the stream, which like many that were paved over in urban areas, emanates from a pipe and carries a lot of stormwater runoff and sediment toward Wilde Lake.

During storms, he said, "the water comes out of that pipe like a hose," washing out the stream's bottom and eroding the banks.

"Our design approach is to slow the energy of that water," he said. That will be accomplished by creating riffles and pools that slow the flow and create places where fish and insects they eat can thrive, and other environmental work.

A downstream section of the waterway was restored a few years ago by the Columbia Association, said John McCoy, the association's watershed manager, and the current section is part of broader assessment of stream erosion in the association's open space.

He noted that developing a design, acquiring all of the required permits and completing the restoration work is a multiyear process.

"I love the partnership, and I love the smaller organizations getting involved in something like stormwater, which has not been in the forefront of people's thought processes," he said.

"Should we like the design and should it get permitted, we would submit it to our board. It would be at their discretion as to whether to fund that," McCoy said.

Adkins said it took her a few weeks to learn about the grant process, the trust and contractors, as well as the environmental terms, as she circulated her idea among her association's board.

"I contacted our officers and I said, 'What do you think of this project?' They were thrilled," she said.

She said she wasn't surprised at the support — the association and residents have already embraced other stormwater initiatives, promoting the use of rain barrels and encouraging rain gardens.

Jana Davis, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Trust, praised Adkins and the association's drive to tackle a hefty project, and called the idea of pulling in the Columbia Association early in the process "forward-thinking."

"The unusual part of this is how quickly they were able to get up to speed and quality for a $40,000 grant," Davis said.

"It is very rare for a homeowners association that hasn't started at a smaller scale to get a grant this large," said Davis, which expects to hand out about $5 million this year in a variety of grants.

"If folks can contribute toward restoring their streams that are in their backyard, they are helping themselves, and they are helping their watershed," Davis said.



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