Climate change has contributed to erosion and drainage problems in New Mark Commons. Intense downpours have increased substantially over the past 60 years in the mid-Atlantic region, and could increase another 10-20 percent by 2050.
That was the message Wayne Hosking of Construction Systems Group Inc. (CSG) delivered to more than 120 residents who packed the Clubhouse Sunday afternoon on May 6 to hear firsthand the company’s engineering report about New Mark’s potentially costly erosion problems.
It was one of the largest resident turnouts in recent history, with every chair occupied, folding chairs opened and folks standing in the aisles.
The New Mark Commons Homes Association Board of Directors called the Town Hall meeting to inform the community about erosion issues, the replacement of 50-year-old wood beam retaining walls, and repaving the parking lots in a way that will reduce storm water runoff.
Hosking, CSG’s vice president, and his colleague Robert Reed, a CSG project manager, took the audience on a step-by-step tour of their report. The full report has been available on the New Mark website since April via a special link, and was outlined in a mailed letter to each home on April 17. An updated version of the report can be found here: CSG Erosion Report.
Hosking said any approved projects could be carried out over a period of years. He outlined an estimated $780,000 for high priority projects and another $1 million for medium priority projects. His firm would not carry out the work, but could be involved in the engineering and obtaining of bids.
Board Treasurer Kathleen Moran opened the meeting and asked residents to be open to the details and to hold questions until Hosking was finished. “We are all going on this journey together,” she said.
But there were occasional interruptions by residents, and a few challenges to the Board, Abaris, and CSG, including an expression of disappointment that only one firm’s analysis was being offered at the Town Hall meeting.
Raj Gupta, a former Board member who has lived in both townhome and detached home over more than 40 years, urged residents to avoid the “attack mode” and take responsibility for staying informed. “Everybody in this room has half a million dollars at a minimum invested in this community,” he said.
Madeline Gupta, his wife, added: “Given that this affects all of us, we want to do everything we can to protect our home values.”
Lori Newman, who said the foundation of her home at 276 NME is being affected by erosion on commonly owned land (Area 4 in the study), defended the Board, its hiring of Abaris, and the CSG report for taking the erosion issue “seriously” for the first time.
“It wasn’t until this Board came on that this neighborhood actually started looking at these issues,” she said, adding thanks to Shireen Ambush, New Mark’s manager from Abaris Realty, for “her understanding of how to manage a neighborhood.”
Addressing residents’ protests against the high projected costs, Board Secretary Alex Belida reassured those attending that the Board has not committed to doing any of the work—nor to asking for a special assessment, seeking a loan, or increasing dues.
“I’m big on living within our means,” Alex said. “We wanted to hear the community, to hear what they are concerned about…We’ve made no decision. This is not something we do all at once.”
Afterwards, the Board said in a statement: “As custodians of New Mark’s finances, we are taking a very close look at all proposed major projects including repaving parking lots and replacing retaining walls.”
About half the estimated costs for erosion control—about $450,00—focus on Area 5, a gully that the Board had not asked CSG to review. Hosking said he discovered the admittedly “obscure area” while walking New Mark Commons’ border with Fireside Terrace, and urged it as the top priority even though it does not flow into Lake New Mark or directly affect homes.
But residents pointed out that neither residents, nor Fireside Terrace, nor the City of Rockville has complained about Area 5, and suggested it should not be a priority for New Mark, given that there are so many other problem areas that directly affect the community.
Increasing sediment in the lake results mainly from storm water runoff in Areas 1 through 4, and presents a pressing argument to address them.
Major costs appeared to focus on the installation of “Geoweb” to hold soil in place and catch natural debris. Gabions—wire cages filled with rock—were also mentioned.
Any disruptive construction in Area 1—the gully that runs alongside New Mark Esplanade’s slope from the woodland pathway to the lake—could trigger the need for the added expense of permitting by Rockville City because of the large area involved, Hosking said. Permitting would require additional documentation and subject the community to ongoing monitoring by the city. He recommended “minimizing” the permitting process.
Possible alternatives and simpler steps to reduce erosion emerged during the meeting. Hosking strongly favored the installation of 100 “FloWells” on individual properties in Area 1 and elsewhere as “the cheapest way.” The 100-gallon tanks would be installed deep underground to catch rainwater directly from downspouts and trickle it into the surrounding earth. Installation would cost about $1,000 each.
He urged the community to undertake a “perc test” to see if the ground is permeable enough to absorb the trickle. Even if the tanks are overwhelmed in a downpour and overflow to the surface, he said they would reduce the overall impact of runoff.
The mention of the FloWells prompted Karin Boychn to inquire about Rockville’s rebate program for rain barrels, which could have the same effect as FloWells and provide water for gardens and car washing.
Another option in Area 1 could be check dams, which are temporary structures installed across the gully, Hosking indicated.
Hosking also noted that many of the storm water drains around New Mark are clogged with debris and could benefit from a strong “jetter” cleaning.
Resident Andy Korb suggested that New Mark only attack the problem on a limited house-by-house basis, with the HOA splitting costs 50-50 with residents who are affected by erosion or flooding from community property.
Such a solution would help mainly townhome owners.
Mark Wetterhahn, a detached homeowner who noted he had spent a considerable amount solving an erosion problem on his own property, asked: “Why am I not entitled to a FloWell?” He also thought that the FloWells would soon overflow in New Mark’s clay soil and would not resolve the long-term problem of harsh storms and erosion.
Fortunately, Hosking noted, New Mark Commons was built long enough ago to be exempted from current storm water regulations that apply to more recently built communities. “You guys have the flexibility to ignore [those regulations] if you choose to,” he said.