Residents contemplate flood scenarios with Red Line

Written by on August 21, 2013 in Neighborhood News - No comments

Hurricane Isabel brought widespread flooding to Southeast Baltimore. Here, residents are evacuated from S. Washington St. - File photo by Laureen Brunelli

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Researchers from the University of Maryland tested some “decision assistance” software on Southeast Baltimore residents last Monday, and in the process, residents learned that they may be making some decisions regarding flood insurance, which is set to increase 25 percent per year over the next for years.

And what about that hole in Boston St. where the Red Line will emerge from underground. Will that get flooded too?

At the event, organized by Canton resident Joe Collins, doctoral candidate Beth Olsen used Hazus-MH software to apprise residents of flood risk to the Southeast in three storm scenarios.

The scenarios included: an exact repeat of Hurricane Isabel, a 100-year flood (which researches now prefer to call a “1 percent annual risk”) and an Isabel on top of projected sea level rise caused by climate change.

Researchers from the University of Maryland tested some “decision assistance” software on Southeast Baltimore residents last Monday, and in the process, residents learned that they may be making some decisions regarding flood insurance, which is set to increase 25 percent per year over the next for years.

And what about that hole in Boston St. where the Red Line will emerge from underground. Will that get flooded too?

At the event, organized by Canton resident Joe Collins, doctoral candidate Beth Olsen used Hazus-MH software to apprise residents of flood risk to the Southeast in three storm scenarios.

The scenarios included: an exact repeat of Hurricane Isabel, a 100-year flood (which researches now prefer to call a “1 percent annual risk”) and an Isabel on top of projected sea level rise caused by climate change.

Hardest hit in Hurricane Isabel, which Olsen dubbed a “historic storm” scenario, were Fell’s Point, especially the Henderson’s Wharf peninsula, from Thames St. south. Also hit with damages were parts of Little Italy, and Canton south of Boston St.

The software depicted structural damage to residential buildings only, though it could also be set to show commercial damage, but not both simultaneously.

A 100-year flood, according to the software modeling, was less severe than Hurricane Isabel.

Most severe was an Isabel-magnitude storm coupled with climate-change swollen sea levels, based on projections by the Maryland Commission on Climate Change. That scenario, which uses predictions from the Maryland Commission on Climate Change, depicted damages to buildings as far north as Eastern Ave. in Canton, and north of Eastern Ave. in the Fell’s Prospect area. Because Patterson Park does not have residential buildings, the software did not depict the extent of flooding there.

This storm scenario, Olsen said, puts seas about 14 feet higher than the normal level as measured by a tidal gauge in the harbor.

Talk turned to the Red Line. Olsen noted that she had spoken to Red Line planners prior to the meeting.

“This tunnel will come out at 11 feet,” she said. “They are well above requirements.”

Residents at the meeting wondered if the requirements were stringent enough.

“So the city’s aware that this map makes the Red Line look like a total disaster?” said Blaire Freed of Upper Fell’s Point.

Also at the meeting was Kristin Baja, hazard mitigation planner for the Baltimore Office of Sustainability. She said that the city is aware of flood-line projections and is “re-evaluating,” aspects of the Red Line plan.

Olsen said that beyond simply constructing tunnel openings at higher elevations, there are other measures to prevent flood waters from filling subway tunnels. One system works like a giant airbag, she said, and closes off the tunnel with a balloon. Another simply shuts a wall across the opening. Both systems, she noted, are much cheaper to install during initial tunnel construction rather than as retrofits.

Baja noted that the city is currently in the process of adopting flood maps and disaster plans. FEMA’s current model, she said, actually puts flood lines closer to the current shoreline than in the city’s current maps. In other words, the flood lines have receded in much of the city.

Baja said, however, that the city could “go above and beyond FEMA” when it adopts new flood maps, which it must do by March of next year.

Baja also noted that flood insurance rates are set to increase “25 percent per year for the next four years” under FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program. Baja said that the Office of Sustainability is currently trying to get Baltimore to meet the criteria of FEMA’s Community Rating System, which could, she said, result in lower flood insurance rates.

by Erik Zygmont
editor@baltimoreguide.com

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