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First step on flooding

February 03, 1997

On one level, the report of the Western Maryland Flood Mitigation Task Force was a good first step in dealing with weather's ravages in this region. It was welcome because government officials finally rejected the idea that floods are periodic manifestations of nature's fury that humans are powerless to resist.

But having said that, the report released this past Friday provided little hope that there'll be major action on prevention anytime soon. For example, it identified 308 structures that should be removed from the flood plain, at an estimated cost of $13.2 million, but also noted that there's only $2.4 million in state and federal money available for that purpose.

There's more: Presumably because of their water/sewer-related finance problems they face, the Washington County Commissioners said they have no cash for a match. In reply, the task force said that local individuals could contribute the 12.5 percent local match needed to make the buyouts go. That's about as likely as landing a killer whale on light tackle in the Potomac River slackwater.

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Finally, the task force recommended a continuing search for solutions to the flooding which takes place when Potomac River water backs into the bed of the Little Tonoloway Creek, flowing through a box culvert along the C&O Canal. But why call for more solutions, when two plans have already been devised by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

In a May 3, 1996 letter to Rep. Rosoce Bartlett, the corp's engineers suggest two possibilities to keep the Potomac River water from backing up into the town in the creek bed. The first would be to temporarily close the culvert and divert the creek water into the town sewer system. The second solution - and the more costly one at $1.6 million - would pump the creek water into the river.

This task force report is fine, as far as it goes. It is a step beyond the superstitious acceptance of flood damage as inevitable. But it doesn't tell us where to get the money to do the the things that everyone knows must be done.

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