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Catonsville, Md., Still Reckoning with Flood Aftermath Two Years Later

Catonsville and Oella were hit the hardest in Baltimore County during the 2018 flood, and the county is still working to reconcile the damage. Some FEMA funding damage, $2.1 million, first made its way to the county Jan. 21.

(TNS) — Steve Iampieri had just left his Frederick Road restaurant, Iamp’s at Jennings Cafe, on May 27, 2018, when he received a panicked phone call from his brother as torrential rains washed through Catonsville.

“‘Steve, I don’t know what’s gonna happen,’” he recalled his brother saying. “He was petrified. ‘Water’s about to come in and there are about 15 people in the restaurant, and we have nowhere to go.’”

“I felt helpless,” Iampieri said.

When he arrived that evening, the storm drains behind Jennings Cafe looked like geysers, he said.

“It was like Jennings had eyes for it. It was like a belly for all of the water.”

Like numerous businesses and upwards of 400 residential homes, Iampieri’s cafe suffered thousands of dollars-worth of flood damage, he said. With the Baltimore County Claims Management office denying his claim and accounting for the $10,000 paid by his insurance company, Iampieri was on the hook for $90,000 in damage to his business.

In a September 2018 letter addressed to Iampieri from Claims Management , a representative wrote that many county properties experienced flooding during the storm, which dumped more than 10 inches of rain on southwestern Baltimore County.

“This rain was a force of nature that could not have been foreseen or prevented by the exercise of reasonable care,” wrote claims department staff member Tanya Raymond. The county’s sewer and storm drain system was overtaxed, unequipped to handle the “excessive amount of rainwater,” she wrote.

“It was an event that was unavoidable that human intervention could neither control nor influence,” wrote Raymond, and “it has been determined that the County is not liable for the damage to your property.”

FEMA did not administer individual assistance funds to property owners, a spokesman confirmed. Authorizing public assistance under emergency declarations is rare, according to FEMA’s website.

“You just chalk it up to a loss,” Iampieri said. “Those losses, I’ll never be able to make up.”

Just one Baltimore County home was deemed to be unsafe after a failed storm drain overflowed on the street where Dan and Kay Broadwater had lived for 38 years.

The rush of water infiltrated the garage and blew out the back wall of the Broadwaters’ home, destroying the foundation and what was inside — Dan’s library, the pool table, the furnace, air-conditioning units. He remembers finding personal items such as golf balls and cue sticks washed up blocks away.

“Everything was gone,” he said. “Complete loss, really.”

An investigation by county personnel into the storm drainage pipe in front of the Broadwaters’ home showed overgrown roots in the piping, Dan said. He recalled being told by a crew member that the pipe “was like a cork in a wine bottle; it was just a little bit of space for the water to come, because [inside] it had overgrown, neglected for so many years.”

Dan said he considers himself lucky. He had enough money saved in a retirement account to replace the condemned home. He and his wife had a place nearby to stay while it was rebuilt. The county waived some of the building construction fees, even while it denied the Broadwaters’ claim.

The county’s storm drainage pipes “are not designed for a lot of the rainfall that we experienced in these last few years,” said Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents Catonsville and other parts of southwestern Baltimore County. “Our infrastructure is not adequate.”

The county has allocated $4 million for storm-drain repairs and enhancements in its fiscal 2020 capital budget, according to online budget documents. That money is “a drop in the bucket” of the county’s overall budget and inadequate for “what we would need to do” to prepare for another historic flood, Quirk said.

The Department of Public Works is currently assessing the Catonsville area’s stormwater management system, said David Fidler, Public Works spokesman. That study is ongoing, and no recommendations have been made yet.

Catonsville and Oella were hit the hardest in Baltimore County during the historic 2018 flood, and the county is still working to reconcile the damage left in its wake. Some funding obligated for damage by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, $2.1 million, first made its way to the county Jan. 21.

Locally, while Thistle Road reopened in August 2019, road closures on River Road are still in effect, and work to replace the River Road Bridge isn’t expected to wrap up until mid-May, according to Baltimore County.

Officials previously said reconstructing the 40-foot bridge was expected to finish by spring or summer 2019, then by the end of last year, but county engineers saw some delays due to a lengthy permitting and approvals process before construction could begin, then more delays between completing the design and beginning construction due to the placement of utility poles, Fidler said.

FEMA has approved more than $13.3 million to Baltimore and Howard counties and other applicants in the counties for this disaster, a FEMA spokesman said in an email. Baltimore County and agencies within it, like the Community College of Baltimore County and Spring Grove Hospital Center, are approved to receive a total $3.9 million from FEMA for numerous projects necessitated by the flooding, and will have to pay for 25% of each project.

The federal agency has also obligated money to the Maryland Department of Resources to address the flood’s lingering effects on Patapsco Valley State Park.

Some trails ‘still in a bad way’

“Catastrophic, widespread” damage closed numerous trails throughout Patapsco Valley State Park, hitting the Baltimore County side particularly hard, said Dave Ferraro, president of the Friends of Patapsco Valley State Park, which enlisted hundreds of volunteers to help address extensive rehabilitative work.

“Frankly, the damage was way beyond volunteer work,” he said.

The trail system in the Avalon area in Halethorpe “saw an enormous amount of precipitation. Tons of erosion — more than tons, hundreds of tons, thousands of tons of erosion,” Ferraro said.

The Soapstone Trail, which begins across from the Southwest Park & Ride on South Rolling Road, was “massively washed out,” according to Ferraro. The popular Grist Mill Trail, which already had been closed in preparation for the removal of the Bloede Dam, and its connecting pathways remained closed for longer than expected, along with closures at Lost Lake and parts of Buzzards Rock, Saw Mill, Forest Glen and Vineyard Springs.

Those trails are now mostly accessible to walkers, but some “are still in a bad way,” Ferraro said.

The last remaining trails reopened in summer 2019, according to an emailed response from Patapsco Park ranger Joe Vogelpohl.

“However while the trails are passable there are still some in need of permanent repair and some may be moved from their current route to a more sustainable location in the future,” Vogelpohl wrote.

The Saw Mill Trail, for instance, is still quite damaged. Vineyard Springs in the Glen Artney area and Nun’s Run, a 1.5-mile trail that connects Grist Mill to the Forest Glen loop, saw substantial damage in 2018, and have still not fully recovered, Ferraro said.

“The trails that are open are not in the state they were before,” he said. “People are using them as social trails, but they’ve not been [fully] repaired.”

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources has poured $2 million into rehabilitative work since the flooding, although “the work is ongoing and [there] may be additional costs,” Gregg Bortz, spokesman for Natural Resources, said in an email.

FEMA has said numerous reconstruction projects in the state parkland qualify for federal funding, the costs for which FEMA will likely fund 75%, Bortz said.

Concrete bridges are currently in design to replace the two trail bridges near the Soapstone and Saw Mill trailheads downstream from the CSX railroad aqueducts, with construction expected to start in 2021 at an estimated price tag of $500,000, Bortz said.

“Significant repairs” are still needed in and around the Lost Lake area, but construction isn’t expected until fall this year, Bortz said. The preliminary $100,000 estimate covers stream bank restoration, parking lot repairs, lake dredging, a reconstructed fishing platform and other erosion repairs. Stream bank restoration measures at the lower Glen Artney parking area are still under design, and repairs estimated at $25,000 along River Road are expected to begin this fall, according to Natural Resources.

Road repairs near the Hilton campground were finished in 2019 at a cost of $15,000.

The Maryland Park Service was also awarded $250,000 from FEMA for continuing cleanup of existing trails, work that will start this spring and continue through 2021, Bortz said. Natural Resources is also working to install nature-based shoreline resiliency measures, starting along the Soapstone Trail, to stabilize the stream system and mitigate large-scale damage if another flood were to tear through the park.

Getting the federal funding “is very exciting,” Ferraro said. “It’s two years later, I know, but it’s hard to get. There is a lot of bureaucracy involved in getting these resources to the park.”


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