Baltimore County businesses suing to fix chronic flooding issues

Posted at 6:47 PM, Jun 28, 2016

For almost 60 years, Better Engineering has been building industrial machinery.  The third-generation, family owned company operates in White Marsh, and even had plans to expand the manufacturing plant.

There’s just one thing standing in the way; a small stream nearby.

"In this section of the stream, it floods tremendously when we get a thunderstorm, so much so that it floods the entire business park," said the President of Better Engineering, Keith Hiss.

With a heavy, fast downpour, he estimates the shallow White Marsh Run swells and rises 15 to 20 feet, completely engulfing Better Engineeringand the properties of other companies in the White Marsh Business Park area.

"Everything in the back of our building, lumber, dumpsters, anything that floats gets washed away,” Hiss said.

The business is now suing the county and state to fix the flooding problems, and recover damages.

The threat of rising waters has forced Better Engineering to construct a cinder block wall around its transformers to make sure power won't be knocked out.  The flooding has caused more than $75,000 worth of damage, and property values have plummeted.       

According to county records, Better Engineering's land doesn't even sit in a flood plain.

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Hiss points the finger at three culverts that run under I-95.  Legally, they're supposed to be 12 feet tall, but silt, sediment and rocks have built up, reducing the openings by 30 percent.  That’s much less space for water to rush through when storms hit, and Hiss tells us it creates a choking point.  The culverts get clogged with downed trees and debris.

"And it does not allow the flood waters through fast enough,” Hiss said. “So everything backs up in our section of the business park and totally overwhelms the roads, the buildings, and causes a dangerous situation."

He says the flooding got significantly worse about six years ago.  That happened to coincide with a state highway road widening project for I-95 that extended the culverts 60 percent farther.         

This time, local companies took action.  They studied the problem for about a year, and came up a list of solutions.  Then shelled out about $15,000 to hire an engineering firm to do an independent study.

"We presented our report, we offered that report to the Kamenetz administration and others, and nothings been done,” Hiss said.

He said it's frustrating.  And with the lack of action, Better Engineering felt forced to file a lawsuit. 

"It's the state saying the county's responsible, and the county saying the state's responsible,” said Attorney Priscilla Carroll with Bowie & Jensen.  “Nobody is saying it doesn't need to be fixed, and nobody is saying there isn't a fix, it's just who is going to take responsibility."

ABC2 News reached out to the county and state agencies listed in the lawsuit.  A spokesperson for the Maryland Department of the Environment declined to comment. 

The Maryland Transportation Authority released a statement saying, “All construction activities related to White Marsh Run were conducted in accordance with all established laws and with an appropriate standard of case, including all necessary approvals from the Maryland Department of the Environment.”

Baltimore County officials did not respond to a request for comment. 

The state and county now have 30-days to file a response in Circuit Court.

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