BERLIN — In an effort to manage both localized flooding and increasing state restrictions, the Berlin Mayor and Council agreed to a University of Maryland led stormwater feasibility study Monday.
“We have to have a plan customized for the needs of Berlin,” said Mayor Gee Williams.
Hoping to achieve that, University of Maryland Environmental Finance Center Director Joanne Throwe approached the council with the possibility of adding Berlin to a stormwater pilot program.
“The overall purpose of the project is obviously to get assistance with the stormwater situation you have here now,” said Throwe. “You have no dedicated funding source for stormwater.”
Throwe explained that many communities either ignored or only paid a minimal amount of attention to stormwater issues. She told the council that Berlin could be different.
“I do want to make you an example of how to do this right,” she said.
According to Throwe, the feasibility study is just the first step to solving Berlin’s stormwater problem and will serve as a blueprint for what actions come after. She did warn, however, that stormwater management is a long-term effort, and that even the feasibility study would take about a year.
Williams acknowledged the commitment.
“It’s not going to be fixed overnight,” he said.
Throwe explained that the study would be “a full-assessment of [Berlin’s] program” and how it can be expanded. Additionally, she said that community education would be a priority since resident involvement and understanding would be lynchpins of the project.
“It’s engaging citizens at different levels,” she said.
Williams felt the same, remarking that the pace of the study would be decided by public support. He asserted that some residents don’t even realize there’s a stormwater problem, since their locations rarely flood. But he noted that others in town are acutely aware of the issue and suffer flooding in heavy rain, just like from the storm that dumped nearly five inches of rain Monday night in two hours. His goal with the program is to see a reduction in both flooding and nutrient problems.
The part of the study that seemed to impress the council the most was its cost.
“This is free,” said Throwe. “I’m not looking for funding.”
Instead, she explained that she would need the time and cooperation of the town and its employees. Williams noted that the Army Corps of Engineers had done their own stormwater study of Berlin years ago that will serve as a good starting point.
“You start with the big picture,” agreed Throwe. “You start with what you have.”
Throwe revealed that she had helped conduct a similar survey in Ocean City. She admitted that Berlin was a much different location than the resort town.
“Tourism was the big focus [in Ocean City],” she said.
However, she explained that the underlying principle was the same. She also mentioned that Ocean City was in a worse position than Berlin.
“They have a $12 million problem,” said Throwe.
Salt water had wreaked havoc on Ocean City’s infrastructure and, unfortunately, there wasn’t enough money available to overhaul their systems.
“They have no money to fix this,” she told the council.
Throwe did say, though, that efforts were being made to rectify some of the resort’s problems over the next decade. It’s her hope that Berlin won’t get to that point.
“This is a windfall we could never have anticipated,” said Williams.
The mayor was enthusiastic about the possibilities of a stormwater pilot program and felt Berlin is the perfect town for it. He noted that there are thousands of small towns much like Berlin across the country.
“We’ve got all the ingredients,” said Williams.
He also mentioned that Berlin has been “put in the spotlight” before for other environmental efforts.
“This needs to start somewhere,” he said.
After the feasibility study, Throwe hopes to work with the town in securing grants and aid to begin new stormwater projects. She expressed confidence that a variety of organizations would be interested in helping the town.
“I have a lot of eyes on Berlin right now,” she said.
Williams was also optimistic about securing funding.
“I think there’s assistance available,” he said.
Councilwoman Paula Lynch worried that changing some aspects of the town to combat stormwater might adversely affect residents in other areas.
“It just seems to be a vicious circle,” she said.
But Throwe was quick to promise that the any projects done would be undertaken with a high level of planning and preparation to avoid causing any damage. The argument convinced Lynch, who called having a feasibility study done a “no brainer.”
The rest of the council agreed, and voted unanimously to have Throwe begin the study. Williams called the decision a “landmark turning point” in the environmental history of Berlin.