OCEAN PINES – Flooding concerns dominated last week’s meeting of the Ocean Pines Association Board of Directors.
Following heavy rains in early August, several residents entreated the board to find a solution to flooding in the Pines. Rhonda Holson said her home had been flooded three times during the past six years.
“Now my foundation is cracked,” she said. “I may not have a home. Something has to be done.”
Resident John Roeder said he thought much of the flooding was due to the fact that many of the community’s drainage pipes had been installed 40 years ago. They were put in, he explained, when there were significantly fewer homes in Ocean Pines.
Roeder added that many of them were clogged.
“The accumulation of debris hasn’t been cleaned out,” he said.
Resident Terry Carrick agreed.
“The drains don’t work right because as Mr. Roeder said the drainage ditches are clogged,” she said.
Carrick said that when she’d shared her concerns with association staff, crews had been sent out not to clean the ditches but to dig them deeper.
The comments from Carrick and her fellow residents came Friday just before the board was scheduled to hear from Laura Allen, Berlin’s town administrator, regarding the municipality’s success in addressing its stormwater problems in recent years.
“We felt it important as a board to reach out to resources in the area,” said Doug Parks, president of the board. “The intent of this is to have a dialogue.”
Allen said flooding and stormwater had long been concerns in Berlin. Roughly a decade ago, the town began investigating solutions.
“Berlin started tackling stormwater in earnest maybe 10, 12 years ago,” Allen said. “It’s been a longstanding issue in the community. Some of the comments we heard today are some of the comments Berlin heard many years ago.”
After decades of complaints from residents, a study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers identified Berlin’s primary problems and potential solutions. The town then worked with the University of Maryland Environmental Finance Center on a stormwater feasibility study. That resulted in the formation of Berlin’s stormwater utility in 2013.
“We worked with the University of Maryland to come up with a financing mechanism to establish the utility,” Allen said.
Since the creation of the utility, residents now pay an annual $50 stormwater fee. Commercial property owners pay a much higher annual fee based on the amount of impervious surface they have at their businesses.
“There was a lot of public outreach in this whole process culminating in the creation of the stormwater utility,” Allen said. “A lot of the comments we heard today were the same kind of comments the council heard that motivated them to tackle this issue.”
While the annual fees generate roughly $170,000, Allen said that was not nearly enough to fund the projects identified to improve drainage in the town. Instead, the town has used that money to help find matching grants. She said that with the help of EA Engineering, the town had acquired $2 million in grants to help with various stormwater projects.
As far as collecting the annual fee from residents, Allen said a property tax adjustment when the fee was first implemented and plenty of public education made the $50 charge palatable to residents. She said that the Maryland Coastal Bays Program and Assateague Coastal Trust helped the town advise residents of the ways the stormwater improvements would also enhance local water quality.
“For the most part people were pretty supportive …,” she said. “Part of the reason people were willing to pay the fee was because they saw it as an investment in their environment and they were willing to spend a little more money to make sure the water was a little bit better.”
Roeder praised Allen’s presentation and suggested the board incorporate funding to tackle stormwater in the coming year’s budget.
“This lady has given us a fantastic story today of success, a proven record, and a methodology,” Roeder said. “She has told us exactly what we need to do.”