BERLIN — The Berlin Mayor and Council decided to accept a Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) grant Monday night. The $129,000 grant will cover most of the costs associated with restoring a section of Hudson Branch, considered the most polluted stream section in Maryland’s Coastal Bays watershed.
Town officials also hope that the grant will serve as a catalyst, becoming a stepping stone to further funding.
“People tend to treat it [Hudson Branch] as a sewer,” said Maryland Coastal Bays Science Coordinator Roman Jesien.
He added that Hudson Branch is a “glaring area in Berlin” in need of attention.
Jesien came before the council to outline the basics of a restoration project that would involve slowing water at a section of the stream next to Henry Park, planting vegetation and creating a sand and gravel matrix, which would act as a filter.
While the plan differs from some traditional forms of water management, Jesien expects that the new method of “working with nature instead of against it” will become the standard in the near future.
With all of that in place, Jesien explained that nutrients would be removed from the water and erosion would be slowed or halted. Additionally, a “habitat” would be created, which would serve as “an enhancement of Henry Park,” and will be more ecologically friendly and aesthetically pleasing, than Hudson Branch in its current form.
“It’s not just an open ditch or sewer,” said Jesien of the location.
Mayor Gee Williams had similar feelings.
“The community has to see it as a stream, a resource,” he said.
Williams called the project to restore a section of the stream “a big one,” saying that it will eclipse any other efforts taken so far.
Jesien agreed, but commended the town on steps that have already been taken, such as building a small bridge over the stream and efforts to educate the public. The education portion of restoration is one of the most important, according to Jesien.
“The idea is to provide more focus on the area,” he told the council.
Jesien added that the community needed to “foster stewardship” of local waterways. The plan that he proposed would compartmentalize restoration work. The creation of a slow-water habitat at Hudson Branch, which Jesien compared to the pond at Stephen Decatur Park, would be the first of many steps, with the end intent to “restore the stream to a living entity.”
“We need to do things differently,” Jesien said.
Besides improving water quality, the proposed habitat at Henry Park could have a positive ripple effect on other parts of the community. The current plan is to plant Atlantic White Cedars around the pond. The species has been in decline in the area for a long time, but Jesien explained that the cedars were once very common around streams and waterways. He noted that there was a lot of potential for education with the plants as well. Cedars could start in nurseries at local schools, where students will have a chance to learn about plant growth. Once the trees have matured, the students could then plant them around the habitat.
“There’s a lot of bang for your buck,” said Jesien of the DNR grant.
The council reacted positively to the idea of the environmental clean-up.
However, Councilman Dean Burrell was vocal about his concerns over potential flooding. Though Jesien assured Burrell that the water would not be stagnate nor would it contribute to the already noticeable flooding issue in some parts of Berlin, Burrell remained skeptical.
“I just don’t believe it,” he admitted.
Burrell pointed out that he lived close to where the Hudson Branch habitat would be located. In his opinion, creating a large pond in that area would almost definitely mean more flooding during times of heavy rainfall.
“It’s not going to be flooding other people,” promised Jesien.
He admitted that having a habitat at Hudson Branch wouldn’t improve most flooding issues, but neither would it worsen them. Jesien also revealed that the project would have to prove to engineers that it wouldn’t aggravate flooding conditions before a plan would ever be approved.
The council at large was excited about the opportunity.
“It [accepting the grant] has a lot of benefits associated with it,” said Williams.
The mayor recognized that the habitat would only be the first of many steps, however.
“We’re talking about a generation of work here,” said Williams.
Still, he viewed the grant and Jesien’s proposal as a good place to start.
“I see where we have very little risk,” he said.
Jesien was realistic about how much could be accomplished in the beginning.
“You can’t expect miracles,” he told the assembly.
But like Williams, Jesien saw the grant as the beginning of a movement. His plan is to continue with small projects like the habitat in areas around Berlin, hoping that one day all of the little efforts would link into a greater one.
The council voted 5-1 to accept the grant, with Burrell opposed.