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Calvert Hills stormwater drainage project back on

a car floats during College Park flooding

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Posted on: May 9, 2024

By SHARON O’MALLEY

flooding in calvert hills
Rainwater pooled as high as 4 feet in some Calvert Hills neighborhoods during a severe storm in 2020.
Photo courtesy of John Rigg

More than a dozen years after Prince George’s County approved a plan to ease flooding in College Park’s Calvert Hills neighborhood during heavy storms, contractor selection is underway and work could begin by mid-summer.

At the same time, the city has applied for funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to expand the scope of the project.

“It’s unfortunate that this project took this long, but I’m glad that we’re finally at the stage where it [went] to bid,” Prince George’s County Councilmember Eric Olson (District 3) said. “The sooner we get construction started, the sooner it will finish.”

Bidding closed in mid-April.

Olson, whose council district includes College Park, said the county put the project in the cue for its stormwater fund around 2010 but it has seen little movement since then.

The four-part project is expected to begin with the installation of a new underground system that would divert stormwater from Calvert Road south into an underground concrete vault at Calvert Park. That vault would collect and store runoff and then divert it away from the neighborhood over time.

By diverting runoff to the vault, the system is designed to prevent pooling on streets and lawns and in the basements of homes in the area around Calvert Park, including Fordham and Drexel roads and Dartmouth Avenue.

Over the past 15 years or so, the neighborhood has flooded when heavier-than-usual storms poured up to 4 feet of rain over brief periods, overwhelming the community’s storm drains.

College Park City Councilmember John Rigg (District 3), who lives in the flood-prone area, recalled working in his basement in September 2020 when one of his children told him, “’Dad, the car’s floating down the street.’ It sure was.”

On two other occasions, Rigg said, several inches of water collected in his home’s basement, while sewer water bubbled up through drains, toilets and sinks. “You can imagine the damage that created” to his home and his neighbors’, he said.

Stuart Adams, a structural engineer who also represents District 3 on the city council, said rainstorms have become more extreme as the climate has heated up. But storm systems in older neighborhoods were not designed to accommodate increasingly intense weather, so they become overwhelmed during the heaviest downpours.

“We need to acknowledge that this is going to happen a lot more frequently than people want to believe,” Adams said, “to acknowledge that the risks are here today, but they continue to increase.”

In fact, Adams said, the project “is based on the data that’s currently available today. It’s going to bring us up to the current standard, but not up to current climate.”

Daniel Oates, president of the Calvert Hills Citizens Association, agreed.

“I’m happy to see [the project] moving forward,” he said, “and it will solve some of the flooding. But under extreme weather events … it’s not solving the problem, but it’s reducing it. There will still be flooding.”

A summary of the project issued by the county confirmed that it is “designed to reduce the frequency of significant flooding and to improve stormwater runoff conveyance; however, it is important to note that these do not constitute a solution to all flood events. The existing buildings and infrastructure limit the size of the system, and changing weather patterns make nuisance flooding incidents more prevalent.”

Adams explained that when the Calvert Hills and Old Town neighborhoods were built, the standards for stormwater drainage were different from today’s. He noted that the current construction boom in downtown College Park could actually ease flooding because building codes now require developers to include on-site stormwater retention.

“It’s just how infrastructure is built in the U.S.,” he said. “It’s costly to get to where today’s standard is.”

Rigg, who has witnessed three major storms since he moved into his neighborhood in 2007, said he is looking forward to the improvements but noted, “I’ll believe it when I see it. I won’t believe it’s actually happening until the first shovel goes in the ground to actually make it happen. … It’s been a frustrating process for those of us in the community.”

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