December1, 2016

To: Officers and Board Members, Lutherville Community Association

From: Eric Rockel

Subject: Roland Run Stream Restoration Project

As a result of the public meeting held on November 14 concerning the Stream Restoration Project, Al Fischer of Trebor Court asked that I write this memo to the Board requesting a proposed course of action. Before I delve into Mr. Fischer’s proposed course of action, I want to describe what the Stream Restoration Project hopes to accomplish, as well as provide some general background information about the Roland Run.

Background on the Roland Run:

The stream that runs through Lutherville, just west of the Light Rail, is part of a much larger Roland Run drainage area. Drainage to Lutherville’s part of the Roland Run comes from as far north as properties on the north side of Timonium Road, as far east as Old Lutherville and properties on the east side of York Road, as far south as Bellona Avenue and the Beltway and as far west as the Harrisburg Expressway.

Most of the development that drains into the Lutherville segment of the Roland Run predates Baltimore County’s requirements for storm water management, which began in the 1980s, and for development that occurred after 1980, most of it has been given variances that allowed it to proceed without storm water management. Examples of the former are the Yorkridge Shopping Center and the Country Club Park subdivision, which were primarily built in the late 1950s and 1960s, and examples of the variance situation are the Kohl’s or the Bluestone Restaurant, even though both were built after the advent of storm water management.

The Lutherville segment of the Roland Run has witnessed extreme degradation and flooding in the last sixty years. There has also been significant stream bank erosion. As recently as the early 1950s, longstanding residents remember when fish were very common in the stream; whereas today there are very little if any fish present. Hurricanes Agnes and David brought flooding to this Roland Run segment in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and at least a dozen, or more, homes experienced basement flooding, or worse, as a result of those floods. More recently, flooding has occurred to a few homes in a variety of locations due to extreme storms that were rated less severe than a hurricane.

Lutherville Community Association’s Reaction:

Over the past forty years the Community Association has tried a number of steps to raise awareness of our concerns about this segment of the Roland Run. We have met on multiple occasions with County government officials concerning flooding and stream degradation. The first wave of meetings in the 1970s met with a degree of success, largely due to County-wide impacts of flooding originating from the damage caused by hurricanes Agnes and David. By the early 1980s Baltimore County committed to attempting to purchase homes within the 100-year floodplain. The purchase of those homes was done in a voluntary manner, meaning that the owner could choose not to sell if he or she so elected, and as a result homes in the 500 block of Morris Avenue (where the children’s playground is located, as well as the opposite side of Morris Avenue) and on the eastern corner of Seminary Avenue and Greenspring Drive were purchased. As a result of this home purchase initiative, Baltimore County Public Works officials have taken the position that they do not need to address raising the elevation of the culvert in the 500 block of Morris Avenue. This culvert and portions of the adjacent roadway are frequently under water during heavy storm events, but Public Works officials feel that since the homes that suffered from this culvert were purchased or offered to be purchased, there is no further culpability.

Meetings with County officials in the last twenty years have proven less successful. As mentioned above, Public Works officials have turned a deaf ear on our requests to build storm water management facilities that would detain the water runoff before entering the stream. Environmental officials have acknowledged that the stream is degraded, and they are proposing a stream restoration project to address that degradation, but they, too, are unwilling to create any facilities that would detain the storm water before flowing into the stream.

In addition to the culvert problems in the 500 block of Morris Avenue, community members have also complained about the culvert on Seminary Avenue, near the Royal Farm Store, that is also underwater during heavy storm events. When State Highway officials rebuilt this culvert approximately 10 years ago, they chose to ignore the fact that it will be flooded during a 100-year storm (7.1 inches of rain, or more, during a 24-hour period), even though we raised concern through our State delegates about this situation. In this particular situation, raising the culvert to be above flood level would have required extensive property acquisitions from several properties and may have impeded road access for the Royal Farm Store, the veterinary clinic and one or more residential properties.

We have also objected to a number of variances that would have allowed the building of homes, additions to homes or other structures in or too near to the flood plain given current regulations. In some cases, we have met with success, such as the initial housing proposal for Luthervilla on Riderwood Drive, and in other cases we have lost, such as the retaining wall at the rear of Kenwood Kitchens.

The Current Stream Restoration Project:

As proposed approximately ten years ago, Baltimore County’s Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability is nearly ready to proceed with a stream restoration project. The limits of the project will be Business Park Drive to just north of Morris Avenue at the south end. It will also include restoration of the tributary that runs between the Park and Ride lot next to the Light Rail and properties that front on Kurtz Avenue before flowing under a bridge for the Light Rail, as well as a portion of another tributary that flows between Francke and Kurtz. [1]

Assuming everything goes as planned, the project would start in the summer of 2017. As mentioned at the start of this memo, a public meeting was held on November 14, and a large number, but certainly not all, of the residents adjacent to the stream turned out. All of our State and local officials were also notified of this meeting, but only our County Councilman attended.

This restoration project will feature several measures to change the stream’s geometry. In some cases, the stream banks will be widened to provide greater bank to bank width, and those stream banks will be armored with various sizes of stones and boulders. In other cases, the toe of the stream bank will be armored with smaller stone, again to prevent erosion. In many places the stream bed will be contoured to create more roughness and riffles, which will both oxygenate the water and reduce the stream’s velocity. Much of the projects limits will be revegetated with native plants that should promote less bank erosion in the future, although many mature trees will have to be removed due to impacts of construction. Baltimore County and the State are under a consent decree with the federal government to reduce the amount of sediment and other non-point pollution that enters the Bay and its tributaries, and that is this project’s major objective- to reduce sediment.

As with any project of this magnitude, the potential to affect the flood plain exists, and that is what gives Mr. Fischer much concern. The consultant for the County, KCI Technologies, has looked at the flood plain issue, and their plans detail where the flood plain will be reduced and where it expands on each property adjacent to the stream. However, the flood plain depiction by KCI Technologies is very different, much smaller in size, than the flood plain depicted on the most recent Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) map of the Roland Run. To give a very glaring example of the differences between the two depictions, the FEMA map shows the 100-year flood plain encompassing the entire properties on the stream side of Roland Run along Trebor Court. Conversely, KCI Technologies shows the floodplain only encompassing half of the rear yards of the same properties, about 30% of the entireties. The disparity between these two mappings has Mr. Fischer frustrated and angry.

In response, KCI points out that their examination of the stream topography was much more detailed than FEMA’s. KCI claims to have done specific survey work that looked at the stream’s topography at over fifty discreet points along the stream. FEMA, by comparison, examined a handful of discreet points and interpreted the stream topography between those few points. I have no doubt that KCI made a more thorough elevation examination than FEMA, but that alone does not guarantee that KCI’s representation is correct. Some of KCI’s elevation information is not consistent with other information we have seen from other sources, both County-generated and private companies, and we have no idea whether KCI’s flood plain determination uses other methodologies approved by FEMA. One thing I am certain about is that over the last ten years, we have seen very different depiction of the flood plain limits from a number of sources. FEMA, KCI Technologies, Wallace Montgomery & Associates, working for the County’s Dept. of Public Works, and Brudis & Associates, working for both the State Highway Admin. and the developer of Luthervilla, have all produced flood plain maps that are not consistent with one another.

Why is this important? Because it affects residents in a number of ways. Federal government regulations require all homeowners who have a federally-backed mortgage to obtain flood insurance based upon the FEMA flood plain maps. The cost of that flood insurance can be $3,000 to $3,500 per year. If the KCI information is correct and the FEMA mapping is wrong, that would produce significant savings for residents. Secondly, residents are barred from building home additions, decks or other structures in the 100-year flood plain, and the County uses FEMA’s flood plain determination to make those decisions. Mr. Fischer and other residents are naturally concerned that we have been given many different versions of the flood plain. In addition, since the KCI depiction of the flood plain is not approved by FEMA, will this give residents a false sense of security about the impacts of flooding? Residents should be getting a single, correct and consistent message about the flood plain from our government sources, not inconsistent, multiple depictions.

What Should Be Done?:

Mr. Fischer is recommending that the Board write a letter to the County demanding that the County not proceed with this stream restoration project until the Dept. of Public Works finishes its mapping of the flood plain (done by Wallace Montgomery & Assoc.), so that we can see if the flood plain work done by KCI Technologies is consistent with what Public Works will produce. Personally, I question whether the stream restoration project should be using a flood plain depiction other than FEMA’s because the federal flood insurance program expects local governments to only use the official FEMA product when assessing flood plain impacts.

Making this demand of the County does carry certain risks. When Mr. Fischer made this demand at the public meeting on November 14, the representatives from Environmental Protection stated that the monies earmarked for this project would be shifted to another project, and they implied that this project would be forever terminated if the project was postponed. In effect, we could be rejecting the good in order to achieve the perfect.

Another resident had a similar feeling about the project’s effect on water quality. Since properties north of Business Park Drive, outside the project’s scope, are polluting the Roland Run, why isn’t the project attempting to restore these properties as well? To put it in other words, is a partial correction of a problem the appropriate solution instead of a correction in its entirety?

A different approach to these recognizable deficiencies would be to write a letter to the County asking that KCI’s flood plain information be submitted to FEMA for approval of a flood plain revision and asking if the northern part of Roland Run will be restored in the future without demanding that the project be put on hold. This approach would at least get a written response to these objections.

[1]These smaller tributaries generate a significant amount of storm water. One flood plain study has estimated that in the vicinity of seven foot flows would occur during a 100-year storm, although this is not substantiated. Balt. County’s DPW has failed to analyze these smaller tributaries in its studies.