by GEOFF FOX
Heavy rains in early June caused flooding conditions along High Street in the area of the Interfaith Service Coalition and also along Main Street, most notably in front of the United Methodist Church.
Heavy rains last Tuesday and Friday left portions of Main Street and Pennsylvania Avenue under water as well.
Town Manager Joe Gilbert said the century old storm drains around town are to blame.
“The infrastructure of Hancock is old and dilapidated,” he said.
Large town infrastructure projects are a costly venture, sometimes costing more than $10 million.
The town could take out bonds or low interest loans to raise that money in some way. Another way is to go through the funding cycles.
Gilbert said upgrades to the lagoons and the wastewater system are currently the top priority.
He has just applied for grants for a new water main on South Street, a subsurface infrastructure mapping, town wide leak audit, and a new well. It won’t be known for another month if the town will receive money for that.
For the town, there are three aspects of water – freshwater, which includes pumps, holding tanks, pipes, wells, and fluoridation; wastewater, which includes pumping stations, sewer lines, treatment plants, and other things; and storm water management.
Gilbert’s plan was to do the storm water management third after the wastewater and freshwater projects.
“I’ve since realigned my priorities, I think,” he said.
Wastewater is first and already in the works with engineers already on the ground. Grants for construction will be applied for this coming fall.
Gilbert said he has moved the storm water management to second priority.
The storm water drains in town range “greatly” in quality and age, he said. Some drains are very old and brick that are four and half or five feet tall and over 100 years old.
“They have just gotten to the point where they’re not making it,” he said.
A drain under Grove Funeral home got backed up with water coming up through their property, going through asphalt and affecting the neighboring bank.
“It’s all over town,” Gilbert said giving examples of roads like Virginia Avenue, Fairview Drive, High Street, and Pennsylvania Avenue among others.
As emergencies pop up, those will be taken care of, he said.
Instead of patching holes over the next 20 years, Gilbert said he’d going to do a comprehensive, town-wide storm management program.
“That falls hand in hand with hazard mitigation, flood mitigation, flood abatement, along everywhere in the flood plane, because all that storm water is what creates the floods,” Gilbert said. The water rises from the creeks or river, or just runs downhill.
It’s all going to be taken as one big project similar to the wastewater and freshwater projects.
There are going to be multiple agencies working on it as well, Gilbert said.
Among those are the Army Corps of Engineering, Washington County, State of Maryland, Maryland Department of the Environment, Department of Natural Resources, FEMA, and Hancock Public Works.
“It’s going to be a very extensive project,” he said.
There is a chance the National Park Service could be involved as well as there is an idea to use the canal as a catch reservoir.
Gilbert said he couldn’t give a timeline on the project.
There is a perception that nothing is going on, but there are a lot of wheels turning behind the scenes.
When big projects with multiple agencies at different levels there are meetings, paperwork, applying for funding, teleconferences, and momentum gained for the project.
“At first, it looks like nothing is happening, but there is a lot of planning. There’s a lot of coordination. There’s a lot of engineering,” Gilbert said. “You got to chase the money.”
This fall is when Gilbert expects to put in for storm water grants this fall. Those grants won’t be awarded until next spring.
It won’t be until next summer when the engineers are in town for the project. The following year will see construction begin.
“They only give you one grant per year,” Gilbert said. “This year was wastewater.”
Manpower on the town crew is also an issue, as there are only three employees working for Public Works.
Gilbert said the town had to clear some of the drains around town and there was some asphalt washed away on Resley Street after the recent flooding.
“We patch as we need to patch, we clear out as we need to clear out,” he said. “We’re not going to let the town flood, obviously.”
Gilbert said the town crews will do everything they can, as they need to do it, until a long-term solution is in place.