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Annapolis Trying to Control Nuisance Floods

Credit Lisa Grieco / Annapolis Department of Public Works
Annapolis Department of Public Works
Dock Street flooded after a recent storm

Nuisance flooding, that combination of heavy rains and high tides that inundates low lying areas, is an emerging global problem, scientists say. And you can easily see it in Maryland’s capital city where the City Dock area is frequently under water.

Sveinn Storm, who often spends the night in his ice cream shop at the city dock to make sure the pumps get rid of invading rain or sea water, says the problem has gotten much worse since he opened 44 years ago.

“Unless we had some sort of hurricane that came nearby, the water would never come into this store,” he recalled.   “Now it’s just routine. This year was the worst ever.”

In fact, Annapolis tops the list of American cities dealing with increases in high-tide flooding, according to a recent Stanford University study. Researchers recorded 63 days of high tide flooding in 2017, nearly 16 times the average of four days back in the 1960’s. And they estimated it cost local businesses as much as $172,000 in lost revenue.

Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley says he is determined to turn the report and the nuisance flooding into a tool that can be used to build support for efforts to combat sea level rise and redesign the historic capital city.

“If we don’t get on board, if we don’t start to come up with a strategy, we won’t have a historic district,” Buckley warned. “So, our goal is to be the resiliency capital of America.    

Working in tandem with the Naval Academy, which shares the city’s waterfront, Annapolis can lead by example, the mayor said.  

“It means that we can be way ahead of the rest of the country on solutions.”

Buckley has a two-part strategy.  First, he will try to provide quick relief to waterfront businesses by shutting off storm water outfall pipes that are overcome by unusually high tides. Those tides push rainwater back to the city dock area. Then, the city would also install pumps in existing storm drain inlets to send rain water out to the harbor access lane known as Ego Alley.

Meanwhile, a committee of stakeholders has been charged with crafting a long-term action plan for more sweeping changes that might include removing a parking lot that obscures some of the best waterfront views.

The term “action” is meant to signal that city leaders are determined to reverse four decades of inaction during which at least eight planning studies were shelved because city dock businesses or residents were opposed.

The new committee is being chaired by Eileen Fogarty, who was Annapolis planning and zoning director in the 1980s and 1990s and has been involved in waterfront makeovers in cities such as Alexandria, Virginia and Santa Monica, California. She says Annapolis doesn’t need any more studies.

“What we need to do is to take all of the visions, all of the wisdom in those plans and move forward with a plan of action,” she says.

Fogarty has given the committee a fall deadline.  She says she’s optimistic about the prospects because Mayor Buckley has formed an alliance with Robert Clark, president of Historic Annapolis.  The non-profit preservation group often has effective veto power over change in the city.

But Sveinn Storm, the ice cream man, says he’s not so optimistic.

“This is the third administration that has said they are going to deal with it,” he said. “After a certain period of time you just kind of figure it’s all blow and no go.”

Karen Hosler, WYPRââââââââ
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