BERLIN — Officials this week approved the application for the latest phase of a state grant to address the ongoing problems in certain flood-prone areas of the town.
The Mayor and Council on Monday approved an application for a state-issued Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) totaling around $800,000 for fiscal year to begin an ambitious stormwater management plan that could be a test case of sorts for other municipalities across Maryland. The application, if accepted, will be the third leg in a series of CDBG requests totaling over $1.9 million.
The other portions of Berlin’s latest series of CDBG grants have been used on other important projects throughout the town including the construction of a wastewater holding pond, or lagoon, at the Five Mile Branch spray irrigation site and the complete remodeling of the public restrooms in Town Hall in the center of Berlin.
The third phase in the latest series of state grants will be used, if approved, for the beginning of the town’s multi-year, multi-faceted stormwater management plan. The first leg of that ambitious plan would improve the flow of stormwater in the area of Hudson’s Branch in general, and more specifically install a new culvert under Flower Street in an area prone to heavy flooding in even a modest weather event.
“I think we’re all keenly aware of Berlin’s flooding problems,” said Deputy Town Administrator Mary Bohlen. “This would address all areas affected by Hudson’s Branch. The culvert at Flower Street is currently undersized and this would be a first step in the process to alleviate the flooding problems.”
Among the areas that could see initial relief from flooding by replacing the undersized culvert at Flower Street include Franklin Ave., Cedar Ave. and Maple Ave., for example. Stormwater engineer Darryl Cole explained the project needed to begin somewhere and the Flower Street culvert represented a good jumping off point.
“The improvements at that location will improve the flow further upstream,” he said. “There is a bottleneck there, and everything that happens further upstream is affected by it. There is a lot of water trying to go through a very small area.”
Mayor Gee Williams assured all of the residents of the town that starting a town-wide stormwater management plan at the known trouble spot at Flower Street made the most sense.
“This is going to be a three-year project and we have to start somewhere,” he said. “Showell Street is also at the top of the list. This is what the engineers have told us will do the most good for the least amount of money. This is not a one-time thing. We’re systematically going to fix all of the trouble areas in the town.”
Williams said Berlin has the opportunity, or the misfortune perhaps, of being one of the first to aggressively fix its stormwater management problems.
“This problem is so big all over the country and everybody is a little intimidated because they want to fix everything all at once,” he said. “We’re going to be at the front of the line. It’s not like we’re going to be able to go to other towns and ask how they did it. Other towns are going to be looking to us for advice for the next 20 years.”
The stormwater management plan is just a portion of the town’s most recent CDBG grant package. Creating the holding lagoon at the Five Mile Branch spray irrigation site was a $5 million project paid for in part by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) at $3 million, the CDBG at $600,000 and the town at $182,000. The storage lagoon covers about eight acres and is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
The other portion of the CDBG funds is being used to completely restore the dilapidated old public restrooms at Town Hall on William Street. Of the estimated $114,328 total cost of the project, the CDBG grant is covering $65,500.
“They weren’t the most pleasant of places to send the visitors to our special events,” said Bohlen. “They were outdated, hard to keep clean and a constant problem with maintenance.”
Bohlen explained the old fixtures were torn out and completely replaced with state-of-the-art fixtures. The old facilities were essentially demolished completely and the undersized and outdated plumbing and drainage systems were completely replaced.
“They are much, much better,” said Williams. “They are no longer a place you’d be ashamed to send your family and friends.”
One resident in attendance asked the council to install new signage at different locations around Berlin to direct visitors to the new and improved public restrooms. Williams said they would take it under consideration, but said many of the special event programs include maps of where restrooms and other town amenities are located. He also said most visitors these days are armed with smart phones that direct people where to go for public services.