BERLIN — After flooding from a “1,000-year storm” event Saturday prompted several concerned residents to ask for more help with stormwater issues in town, the Berlin Mayor and Council held firm to its decision to avoid “patchwork” fixes and instead concentrate on establishing a stormwater utility in the near future.
Though Berlin has had stormwater issues for decades the matter has come to the forefront in recent years. Last year, the University of Maryland (UMD) Environmental Finance Center began a free stormwater study of the town in an effort to determine Berlin’s weaknesses and possible solutions to those flaws. With results expected this fall, Mayor Gee Williams advised a room full of concerned residents Monday to be patient.
Though he admitted that last weekend’s storm was devastating, with reports that it was a “1,000 year storm” with findings of over 13 inches of rainfall in several areas, Williams emphasized the fact that such an extreme amount of water was far from typical in the area.
“I hope it’s not something we’re going to have to expect in the immediate future,” he said.
Many residents, however, were understandably on edge after experiencing property damage from flooding.
“We need some additional help,” said Ron Facello, president of the Berlin Home Owners Association.
Facello told the council that he was aware of and happy with the stormwater study being conducted by UMD, but that his community has been suffering for some time without perceived results.
“We have almost always had flood or near flood events during rainfall,” he said.
Resident Andrea Gilberston was considerably more critical of the town, calling the current stormwater situation “inexcusable.”
“We had trees, we had railroad ties, we had everything floating down into our parking lot,” she said.
Gilbertson added that she and others in her area were “terrorized” by the threat of future flooding and asked that the town do more to help.
“I think we should not be the only ones shouldering this right now … I expected a little bit more help than that,” she said.
Several other residents agreed with Facello and Gilbertson, with a recurring concern being a fear that the intensity and frequency of storms is ever increasing.
“I think we can be grateful it wasn’t a 5,000-year flood event,” said resident Randy Walter. “Otherwise, we would have needed an arc.”
Walter suggested that, due to numerous accounts of flood damage and the need for cleanup, town leadership reached out to state or federal authorities in an attempt to get a state of emergency called for Berlin.
Williams promised the administration would look into the possibility and “it never hurts to ask.”
As devastating as the storm was for many, Williams pointed out that the town was lucky in that no injuries were reported despite the flash flooding.
“No one was harmed in this very serious event,” he noted.
Councilwoman Lisa Hall agreed, calling Berlin “very fortunate” to avoid injuries.
With results from the UMD survey imminent, Williams reiterated the need for patience in combating the stormwater problem on a town-wide scale. He cautioned against a reliance on “patchwork” efforts that have been employed in the past and instead advocated the need for a stormwater utility. Though the utility would likely mean a few more dollars on resident’s bills every month, Williams was adamant that it would be money well spent if it helps regulate stormwater and flooding.
However, he did admit that no foreseeable steps that he knows of could have completely stopped issues caused by last weekend’s “freak of nature” storm.
“I don’t want to pretend that we can eliminate and prevent flooding from a 1,000 year storm,” said Williams, adding that he does believe it can be mitigated in the future.
As for less other, lesser storm events, Williams was confident that they can be further controlled and managed in terms of stormwater impact.
But even with the town expecting advances in the next few years in stormwater management, Williams advised all residents to do as much as they personally can to deal with the issue.
“I also ask you to take a look at your own personal property,” he said.
With cleanup still an ongoing effort for many parts of town, Williams pointed out the storm at least proves that Berlin can abide in the face of unusual events.
“At least we know we can weather the storm,” he remarked.
The town will be having a special curbside pickup event to help with the after effects of the storm on Wednesday, Sept. 5. Items must be curbside by 6 a.m. and should be placed in a container weighing no more than 100 pounds. Hazardous waste, yard waste, construction materials, propane tanks, paint and tires will not be collected. For more information call 410-641-4001