Berlin’s First Stormwater Improvements Underway

BERLIN — The first string of major stormwater projects began this month in Berlin and should take about a year to complete.

Darl Kolar of EA Engineering briefed the Berlin Mayor and Council this week on how the projects, but before doing that re-capped Berlin’s history with stormwater and the issues that eventually led the town to develop a dedicated stormwater utility last year.

“Really we got most of the feedback when the Environmental Finance Center was at the helm and they organized at least one public meeting for each voting district,” said Kolar, adding that those meetings each had strong turnout and provided a wealth of data taken directly from residents.

With the information gathered from those public meetings and other sources, the town decided on a series of infrastructure improvement projects to be conducted over the next few years. Four phases are currently scheduled with Phase I entering its design stage this month. Phase I will include the replacement of an existing culvert and potential for an offline wetland at Hudson Branch and Flower Street. The current estimated cost is $635,600.

Phase II would be a similar project at Hudson Branch near Williams Street and the Berlin Electrical Plant with the option for two offline wetlands slated to begin design in March with an estimated cost of $364,500.

Phases III and IV would begin this summer in June and July, respectively. The former involves pipe replacement and would affect Hudson Branch along Cedar, Pine, Franklin, Maple, Grice and Nelson at an estimated cost of $1,018,600. The latter would entail increased pipe sizing, the expansion of an existing pond and retrofit to a wetland and the opportunity for an offline wetland at a cost of $1,831,100.

All of the projects would aim to reduce flooding and improve water quality and nutrient load reduction, often in highly visible areas in town. That visibility is important, noted Mayor Gee Williams.

“That’s more important. It would be better for people to be able to see a noticeable improvement than to come through with all the facts and figures in the world and they don’t. I’d rather it be the way it is,” he said.

Kolar agreed and said that “a lot of people think that stormwater is just pipes and ponds” meaning that education and practical results are needed to clear up any misconceptions. Some of that goes into the phase order of the projects as well as already completed efforts like channel improvements at West Street and a submerged gravel wetland at Flower Street.

It beneficial to keep residents in the loop and to let them see that the stormwater utility actually makes a measurable positive impact on the town, the mayor said.

“We’re on the frontlines of the frontlines. And I think that’s something to keep in mind as you all develop your strategies is that all of this is possible because of public support,” he told Kolar. “So sometimes you may have to do some things that might not be your most favored order of work because the folks that we’re ultimately serving here, they may not be engineers but they may have some good points as well.”

After reviewing the projects, Kolar touched briefly on the progress of grant applications, the securing of which could have a marked impact in lowering the estimated costs he presented. The town has cast a wide net with hopes of landing millions in grant funding from agencies like FEMA and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, among many others. Many of those grants, if won by Berlin, will be awarded this spring.