Desperate to fend off escalating floods, Turner Station calls for help to enforce climate justice – Baltimore Sun

When the rain begins to rain at Turner Station, the historically black community in southeastern Baltimore County, surrounded by creeks, Margaret Risher, 92, looks out her front door, praying that a bus doesn’t splash another trail. of flooding in his brick row house.

Around the corner, Michael Hancock battles storms to move his elderly neighbors’ cars to higher ground, one by one. There is one less since a flood swept Risher’s Ford a few years ago.

And across the street, staff at the local Sollers Point Road convenience store have sandbags ready to barricade the glass doors and close the shop. Inside, all the shelves have been raised a few inches from the ground for when the water inevitably makes its way.

It is a scenario that repeats itself at least a couple of times a year, even in May and again in early August. Longtime residents say it’s happening more frequently now. And after decades of conversations on the issue, Turner Station is poised to enact the talk of environmental justice.

A group of residents is asking Baltimore County to invest in flood relief, holding the results of a recently completed Army Corps of Engineers study. The Corps found that even on sunny days, water is found in storm drains beneath the low peninsula and that models suggest that the intense floods that are coming more often would become devastating without intervention.

“Global warming has really escalated the problem and is slapping people,” said Olivia Lomax, a resident and activist with Turner Station Conservation Teams, a community group. “We have to do things. We cannot continue to postpone “.

As residents push for change, their community exemplifies the challenges in addressing the uneven impacts of climate change. Turner Station was founded in the late 1800s as a community for black workers at the former Sparrows Point steel mill. But while other flood-prone communities in Maryland have seen investments in drainage and shoreline protection, residents say theirs has been neglected.

They fear the floods only add to a list of reasons their children and grandchildren choose to settle elsewhere. What was once a community of 10,000 has fewer than 3,000 residents. If the trends continue, they fear that the last traces of what a longtime resident has fondly dubbed “Black Mayberry” may disappear.

But there is no clear solution. Residents are hoping for a pumping system, perhaps, that could clean the drains and slow the rise of floodwaters in their community, which mostly sits just 6.5 feet to 16 feet above the surrounding Bear Creek, a tributary of the Patapsco River. Other ideas include redirecting or improving the filtration of runoff from nearby higher areas or, in more aggressive scenarios, exploring flood walls or buying flood-weary residents from their homes and moving them elsewhere.

Some residents are reluctant to entirely blame environmental racism – systemic and often implicit policies and practices that target certain communities for undesirable land uses or less application – for their plight, and say they hope their community will become an example of climate justice.

Although Turner Station is known as the home of Henrietta Lacks, a black resident whose cancer cells have been harvested and used in decades of medical research without her consent, investments in the community include a $ 7 million Sollers Point multipurpose center. . It was inaugurated in 2011 and overlooks one of the most flooded blocks.

“I like to think it’s not a race issue,” Hancock said. “But the proof is in the pudding. What are you doing to help the community? “

The Army Corps launched its study after learning of persistent flood problems at Turner Station in 2019. Unlike a recent report released by the agency setting out a $ 134 million plan to prevent flood damage in the city of Baltimore, however, this does not prescribe any possible solution. Instead, it focuses on the causes of the floods and the risks posed.

He found that the water is creeping towards Turner Station from below. Major stormwater pipes that carry most of the community runoff never completely drain, said Jason Stick, project manager in the Corps Baltimore district office.

“On a normal dry day, there is water in them from Bear Creek that stops in there, which takes away the carrying capacity for when it really rains,” he said.

This is the result of a combination of things. For one thing, the community is so old, its stormwater infrastructure is not equipped to handle the amount of runoff that rain brings and was never designed to do so.

In the Mid Atlantic, one of the main symptoms of the increasing abundance of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere is more intense rainfall. Average annual rainfall has increased by about 5 percent over the past century, but rainfall from extreme rain and snow has increased even faster, by more than 25 percent since 1958, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. .

And research shows that Chesapeake Bay’s sea level has risen nearly 2 millimeters per year, or about a foot over the past century. This trend is expected to accelerate.

In parts of Turner Station, such as the area around Risher’s house on Sollers Point Road, this can often result in a foot-deep puddle of water.

The Corps study outlined some possible ways to deal with flooding, including backflow prevention devices that can prevent stream waters from rising into storm drains and pumps that can drain areas that are too shallow to rely on gravity. He also modeled the potential benefit of alluvial coastal walls, which he suggested should be up to 5 feet high.

But it hasn’t explored the feasibility or cost of any of these options, Stick said. Now it depends on the community and Baltimore County leaders.

Jennifer Aiosa, who previously led the Baltimore Blue Water advocacy group and joined the county as a sustainability manager last year, said her office is looking for solutions and money. The county recently applied for a grant from a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Coastal Resilience Fund to investigate possibilities and alternatives and is seeking state and federal funds earmarked for climate change resilience, she said.

In a July meeting with Turner Station residents to discuss flood problems, he warned that it is unrealistic to expect a perfect solution.

“We don’t think we can stop all the floods,” Aiosa said. “What our focus really needs to be is, how can we reduce the risks to residents, to property, to human health?”

But residents are counting on some steps to protect their community.

After all, said longtime resident Larry Bannerman, millions of dollars are being spent on reducing potential flood damage in Ellicott City, where intense storms caused two deadly floods in two years. And Smith Island, a Chesapeake Bay community that has long since shrunk in both population and area, has received millions of dollars in federal funding to stabilize its shores.

“I don’t want to say Turner Station has been neglected,” said Bannerman, who noted that the county is also spending $ 275,000 to renovate the neighborhood’s Fleming Senior Center. “But we’ve been playing this drum for a long time.”

“It is time for Baltimore County to listen to these solutions presented by the Army Corps and find ways to finance them,” he said.

Aiosa said he expects it could take 18 months to two years to explore options and engage the community.

Residents worry that time is not on their side and some have decided they can’t wait any longer.

Bannerman, who has pushed for 11 years for flood relief as part of the Turner Station Conservation Teams, decided last year it was time to move. He said he surveyed more than 100 homes, each time using a smartphone app to measure their elevation. He is still fighting for Turner Station, but takes comfort in the fact that his new home in Edgewood is 107 feet above sea level.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: