Record coastal flooding leaves lasting damage

By Cheryl Costello and Kathy Knotts

Not since Hurricane Isabel has Chesapeake Country seen such disruptive flooding. From Thursday to Sunday, low pressure and persistent onshore winds caused record-breaking water levels in some spots and near-record water in others.

The tidal Potomac River and Solomons all received never-before-seen flooding. Annapolis had its fourth-highest level ever recorded, and southwest Washington, D.C., and Alexandria, Va., had their third-highest. The region saw measurements ranging from 4.8 to over 8 feet of flooding, according to the National Weather Service.

The CBM Bay Weekly community dealt with high waters from Pasadena to North Beach, cutting some people off from their homes and forcing some businesses to close temporarily.

We were out in some of the hardest-hit areas and asked leaders—what’s being done to combat future coastal flooding?

In Annapolis, wind, rain, and tidal surge sent sailboats rocking and waves crashing over the docks on Back Creek. Eastport resident Ben Lyon came to check on some friends’ boats to make sure they were holding fast in the ever-higher water. “You give the lines a little more slack so the boat can float higher as the surge pushes it up, and that way it’s not going to break free, in theory. That’s basically all you can do,” he told us.

Over a three-day stretch of extremely high tides, the Alex Haley Memorial sculpture was swimming and the water level topped out at 4.9 feet above normal.

Sandbags, offered up by the city on Thursday and piled at the doorways of shops and retaurants, were taxed to the limit and water slipped inside the buildings. Governor Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency for Annapolis and other parts of Maryland. Anne Arundel County and the City of Annapolis moved quickly to organize a system for people to report damage and apply for relief funds.

Shorelines Spill Over

Maryland’s capital wasn’t alone in experiencing crippling high water. In Deale, Sydney Marshall couldn’t reach her home near Skipper’s Pier restaurant, so her dad Ty Marshall stepped up (in his waders) to pull her by boat. Over at Happy Harbor, patrons made the most of it, enjoying drinks at the dock bar sitting in water up to their knees.

In North Beach, water crashed over the boardwalk and destroyed portions of it. Segments of the boardwalk remain closed to the public including boat slips along the pier and a section between Hatch’s Corner and 7th Street. At Bayside Beach in Pasadena, it was tough to find the pier when boat owners went to check on their property.

In Galesville, Pirate’s Cove Restaurant staff and owners were hoping they were prepared for the coming water. “We’ve been through it before,” says co-owner Anthony Clarke. “We had experience with Isabel, so we knew where the flood points are in the building.”

Clarke’s staff moved furniture out of the dock bar and dining rooms Thursday night and unplugged and moved as much equipment as they could. Still the water came. “We were underwater from the first tide Friday through low tide Sunday. About 95 percent of our interior was underwater, anywhere from 4 to 12 or 15 inches.”

The restaurant was able to reopen the dock bar by noon Sunday after being closed all day Friday and Saturday. “When the tide subsides, it takes all the water with it,” said Clarke, “so you don’t have to pump everything out like you would in your basement. Once we pressure washed the debris off and the sun came out it all dried out pretty quickly.”

Clarke says the restaurant leans on its sous chef Bill Parkinson who has been working in the building in some capacity for over 40 years. “He has been through a number of hurricanes,” said Clarke. “He is our weather guru so we rely on his opinion and he’s our hero in all this. He has so much knowledge of the local area and how the weather and water affects our building. He was there from start to finish, checking on water levels and giving us estimates on what to expect. He knew by Thursday that we were going to get hit. We are thankful for him.”

Water flooded into Pirate’s Cove Restaurant in Galesville. Photo by Anthony Clarke.

Sign of the Times?

Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman is already working to avoid future disasters like this. “Long term, we have to prepare for more and more of this, which is why we created the Resilience Authority in Anne Arundel County. We’re in the process of hiring a director and staff for that so we can finance some of the infrastructure improvements in some communities. Shady Side, for instance, has got a lot of communities that are very low-lying,” Pittman told us at the height of the flood event. “We have to raise some of those roads to protect the community. And here at City Dock. They’re raising City Dock so they can deal with the future.” 

Bill O’Leary, a volunteer on the Environmental Commission for the City of Annapolis, gave advice on needed upgrades.

“The installation of back flow preventers has clearly been a big help. But unfortunately, what’s going to be required is that these bulkheads all around the inner harbor area are going to have to be raised. And there’s several low points within the harbor.” 

Jeff Holland, who runs patrol boats for the Annapolis Harbormaster, notes the increased frequency of coastal flooding. “Twenty years ago we had these nuisance tides three to four days a year, and now it’s 30 to 40 days a year.” That’s 30 to 40 days that low-lying businesses are at risk.

Maritime Museum Goes Mobile

The maritime museum was one of the hardest-hit places in Annapolis during this flood event. Museum president Alice Estrada tells us 12 inches of water ended up inside the museum, and they closed indefinitely, saying that “the region’s widespread flooding has devastated the Annapolis Maritime Museum.”

“We think we protected the exhibits, but we have professionals cleaning as we speak and they will assess the damage,” says Estrada.

When CBM Bay Weekly checked in with Estrada again early this week, she said that a final assessment of damages had not yet been made. “Offices, desks, computer equipment, appliances in our catering kitchen and significant supplies were destroyed.”

Estrada said that staff attempted to prepare for the inundation of floodwater. “We prepared with sandbags but that was woefully insufficient for this storm. We moved all of our exhibits, which were designed to be mobile for precisely this reason, to higher ground.”

The museum hadn’t seen flooding of this nature since Hurricane Isabel but deals with nuisance flooding throughout the year. “The impacts of the nuisance flooding are nominal because we have gone to such great lengths to modify our historic building in a process known as wet-proofing. When we began designing our new exhibits, flooding was at the forefront of our minds. The exhibits were custom designed to fit the needs of our (often wet) space,” says curator Caitlin Swaim.

“The most basic explanation of the modifications is that all displays are on platforms raised 12 inches or more to allow for flooding with minimal impact and minimal preparation on behalf of the staff. The pieces that are not elevated are designed to be mobile and can be carried from the space for extreme high tides like what we saw this weekend,” says Swaim.

Estrada hopes to have the museum reopen to the public by this weekend.

Recovery Funds for Flooding

Grants up to $50,000 are available through the VOLT Disaster Recovery Relief Program, managed by the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp. Anne Arundel County businesses affected by damage who experienced a pause in operations as a result of the storm and coastal flooding on Oct. 29-30 can apply for the grant for any legitimate business expense. That includes physical property repairs, replacement of equipment, loss of income from being closed, replacement of damaged inventory and working capital needed to get business operations up and running. 

Qualifying applicants include businesses that align with the U.S. Small Business Administration’s categories of small business, as defined by company size; are in good standing with the State of Maryland; and have a brick-and-mortar location in the state. Applicants will need a VOLT application, a copy of 2019 business tax returns (or schedule C), a statement listing all damages including details of loss of income, a budget detailing use of grant proceeds, and a completed W-9. Applicants will be required to be available for a site visit to review damages to the property. Find the application: aaedc.org/business/financing-and-tax-credits/volt-disaster-recovery-program/.