Berlin’s Damage Not Bad Enough For Fed Aid

BERLIN — After learning Berlin failed to exceed the county “threshold” for property damage during a storm last month and thus won’t qualify for disaster relief, town officials advised residents to be patient while a long-term stormwater fix is developed. In the meantime, Mayor Gee Williams also urged residents to invest in flood insurance.

“I think that flood insurance is a basic requirement for living in the Town of Berlin,” he said Monday, adding that those who choose to forgo the insurance do so “at [their] own peril.”

A surprise thunderstorm dropped more than a foot of rain in the area over the course of only a few hours last month. Several motorists were stranded in cars by rising water while many residents saw thousands of dollars’ worth of flood damage. The initial summer storm was also followed by smaller, though still powerful, rain events going into September.

Though damage from flooding to property was severe, it failed to meet the county threshold of $174,000 in expenses related to a single weather event. If Berlin had crossed the county damage threshold, the town would have qualified for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Public Assistance Program. FEMA does have an Individual Assistance Program; however, that only applies if a property is over 40 percent destroyed, which didn’t occur in town during the storm.

All things considered, Williams noted there was a silver lining in the storm clouds.

“I’m very pleased that there finally is a lot of discussion [about stormwater],” he said.

One of the biggest problems with addressing stormwater management in the past, explained Williams, was the fact that the public balked at the idea of having to pay for any kind of town-controlled Stormwater Utility. Though ideas had been pitched in the past to that effect, Williams pointed out that none of them ever gained traction.

“It didn’t even get off of the launch pad,” he said.

According to Williams, for decades, people in town did their best to ignore stormwater as a long-term problem, concentrating only on quick fixes that they could manage privately.  It got to the point, he claimed, where “Homeowners Associations basically told the town to take a hike.”

“There was a long period of what I’ll call denial,” he said. “Then the denial went to defiance.”

The attitude in town is changing now, however, and residents are making it clear that they are willing to work with the town to reach a solution, according to Williams. To that end, he reiterated that people living in Berlin should be patient and recognize steps the town has taken in the past working on individual ditches or drains aren’t sufficient anymore and would only distract from concentrating on a final solution.

Residents should also recognize that the town plans on addressing problems in order of severity, said Williams.

Until the University of Maryland stormwater study is ready for presentation, which Williams guessed should be in “weeks, not months” he doubled-down on the need for flood insurance for property owners in town.

“I would highly recommend it to everyone based on recent experience,” he said.

To that end, Human Resources Director Jeff Fleetwood made a brief presentation about flood insurance and provided some basic rate quotes. For $150,000 in coverage for a home and $60,000 for content in that home, the basic rate is $343 annually. For $250,000 in coverage for a home and $100,000 for contents, it is $405 annually. A $150,000 plan for content coverage only would cost $134 annually.

Because FEMA manages flood insurance costs, it remains the same across all providers. However, a property’s flood risk zone can affect rates. For more information, visit www.floodsmart.gov

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