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State task force searches for flood solutions

November 22, 1996

By BRENDAN KIRBY

Staff Writer

A task force searching for ways to deal with chronic flooding in Western Maryland discussed possible solutions with county residents and elected officials Friday.

Gov. Parris Glendening set up the task force, chaired by House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, in response to a year filled with disastrous flooding. The task force will make recommendations next month.

Washington County residents recounted tales of recent floods, which have devastated Hancock, Funkstown and other areas.

Early Bates, commander of American Legion Post 211 in Funkstown, called for a levy on the Antietam Creek.

"We had four feet of water in the Legion and it took the wall out," he said of a flood this summer.

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Critics charge that overdevelopment of flood plains makes damaging floods inevitable. But this year was particularly bad because of a record amount of rainfall, said Gary Rohrer, Washington County's Public Works director.

So far, the county has received 70 inches of precipitation - 30 percent greater than the previous annual record.

Rohrer recalled driving home from a County Commissioners meeting at Fort Richie in January. Rain that day, combined with several feet of melting snow, caused massive flooding.

"I saw a runoff coming off that mountain that just frightened me - and I grew up in this county," he said.

The task force, which will have hearings in Garrett and Allegany counties later this month, is mulling a number of solutions to the flooding problem. They include paying property owners to relocate, reforestation programs and deepening waterways.

But Taylor said it will be difficult for state or federal officials to come up with the funds to relocate people.

"The trick is to find the resources," he said. "These solutions cost money."

In an interview, Taylor also said the counties must put the brakes on development in flood plains. He said he thinks the counties have allowed too much growth in certain areas.

"I'm pro-growth, believe me," he said. "But a little more common sensical approach should take place."

County officials, however, said they have already taken steps to limit growth. The problem is what to do with people who already live in those areas.

County Commissioner Ron Bowers, who was not at the meeting, said Washington County has long followed state and federal guidelines on development.

"I think the speaker would need to pinpoint areas where counties have not followed the guidelines," he said. "And if there are problems, let's deal with it collectively."

But some contend that the all of Western Maryland has had too much development in problem areas. Boonsboro resident Joe Swope, conservation chair of the local chapter of the Sierra Club, said few restrictions on building have led to "a continuing recipe for disaster."

Other residents counseled caution, however. Robert Barnhart said many people live in high-risk areas by the Potomac River by choice. He urged task force members to recognize that this year's flooding resulted from abnormal conditions.

"Don't over-regulation and overreact to a situation that probably won't happen again in our lifetimes," he said.

Taylor conceded Barnhart's point, but said "daredevils" who live in areas that flood frequently should not expect aid from the government.

"Don't come back to the public and expect to be bailed out," he said.

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