BERLIN — Hudson Branch, the catchall for debris and pollutants that affect the health of the coastal bays, will get a major makeover through a joint project of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program (MCBP) and the Town of Berlin.
Last week, Mayor Gee Williams called Hudson Branch the worst stream in the coastal bays system and said the plan to change that could be a model for addressing the town’s storm water management problems.
Hudson Branch will be rated a D+ in the upcoming MCBP report card, making it one of the least healthy waterways in the county. In addition to promoting erosion and carrying silt and excess nutrients into Newport Bay, Hudson Branch has become a kind of dumping ground.
According to MCBP officials, more than 36 tons of refuse was recovered from the stream during a recent cleanup.
The problem with Hudson Branch is that it doesn’t appear to be a waterway so much as a ditch. As such, it attracts the kinds of people who believe it is acceptable to throw everything from bottles and cans to refrigerators into wooded areas.
In an effort to provide a single solution to all of Hudson Branch’s problems, MCBP in conjunction with the town will accept a Maryland Department of Natural Resources Grant of $129,000 to rehabilitate the section of Hudson Branch that runs through Henry Park.
The plan would establish a pond near the park that would act as a buffer, slowing the stream to reduce the amount of silt and nutrients it carries to Newport Branch. Additionally, the MCBP plans to plant Atlantic white cedar trees at the head of the pond to help soak up nutrients to incorporate Hudson Branch as part of the park rather than as a potential dumping site.
Atlantic white cedar trees, once plentiful, have suffered from deforestation and part of the MCBPs plan is to attempt to bring them back.
Based on the success of the Henry Park project, the state, town and MCBP expect to continue the project all the way down the branch, adding small ponds to reduce flow along the way and eventually use the restoration and reforestation project as a model.
Not everyone on the council, however, was thrilled with the notion. Councilmember Dean Burrell, who lives across the street from the proposed pond, voiced his concern that the solution could actually make things worse.
Burrell said that in his time on the council he’s heard many proposed solutions to the flooding and worried that his neighbor, who during the last storm had water lapping at her porch steps, would suffer from a design aimed at holding more water rather than less.
According to MCBP representatives, the engineering plan must demonstrate that the area will not be further harmed by the pond before the DNR will approve the project. But long-time council-member Burrell wasn’t convinced and was the sole vote against the project.
The expectation, since this is a relatively small first step, is to have the work completed in under a year, in time for the next annual round of storm water management grants.
Williams said he expected Burrell’s concerns to be alleviated by the end of the project. He said because the now demands better practices, the town eventually will have to spend a substantial amount of its own money to address storm water management problems.
“We’re going to have to learn how to do it,” Williams said. “We might as well learn to do it on someone else’s dime.”
In other business, The Cottages of Berlin — a proposed development for older but independent, lower income residents — took a slight blow to its proposed costs when the town was unable to endorse its developers’ request for a variance.
While the company is in full compliance with the fire suppression pipes it is installing, it sought the town’s permission to use smaller pipes for potable water service to the homes.
Councilmember Lisa Hall, who lives in the area and has long complained about the low water pressure associated with the older, small pipes in the area, was flatly against the notion. She worried that the new development might not only underserve the Cottages at Berlin residents but that it also might further reduce the water pressure along Broad Street.
The council rejected the request for a variance. Even though Hall was in the technical minority, in the absence of Councilmember Elroy Brittingham and with Councilmember Troy Purnell recused from the debate, three affirmative votes couldn’t be found.
The developers were encouraged to reapply for the variance once Brittingham returned. When Purnell returned to the council bench, he and Hall had a long bickering session about how responsible developers should be for the cost of development, but the issue was not resolved.
Williams asked the councilmembers to make themselves available for a 6 p.m. work session Monday, July 18 in the council chambers. The work session will primarily address the responsibilities of rental house owners with regard to the town code.