- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
For 10 homeowners in Lusby, a creeping nightmare is close to being over.
Last week, the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners announced a budget adjustment to include a FEMA grant of $5 million for the work needed to demolish 10 homes teetering on cliffs overlooking the Chesapeake Bay. It’s been a long time coming.
For more than a decade, homeowners living along the cliffs in Chesapeake Ranch Estates have watched erosion chip away at their backyards, bringing them closer to literally falling into the Chesapeake Bay. When some homeowners seemed on the brink of falling into the water, they began desperately seeking a way to either reinforce the cliffs or move their homes back from the cliff edge.
Then they ran into a bigger problem: the federally endangered Puritan tiger beetle. Since the beetle was a protected species living, mating and burying eggs in the eroding cliffs — conditions it needed in order to survive — government agencies at all levels had their hands tied. At the risk of destroying the beetle population, they could do nothing to stop the erosion.
The county commissioners seemed frustrated that they were getting little help from federal agencies to address the issue of the burdensome bug. Del. Anthony O’Donnell (R-Calvert, St. Mary’s), an advocate for the self-proclaimed “cliff dwellers,” did step in and helped get dialogue going between homeowners and the state and federal government agencies.
Finally, in February 2010, the ball got rolling. During a town hall meeting hosted by O’Donnell, a federal grant was identified that would allow the purchase of cliff properties identified to be in immediate danger of destruction due to erosion. A full year and a half later, in November 2011, the grant application was completed and was tentatively approved in February last year. At that time, the homeowners also agreed to terms of the buyout. After completing engineering plans necessary to decide a demolition plan, FEMA granted final approval of the project in October.
So, there is the good news: 10 homeowners, some of whom have already relocated to new residencies, but still are paying a mortgage on the to-be-demolished properties, are about to be released from their albatross.
Here is the bad news: More than 80 other homeowners have homes sitting along the cliffs. While they are not in imminent danger, erosion is not known to stop suddenly. Hurricanes, days of steady rain, snow storms, consistent high winds and anomalies like the June derecho just speed up the natural process. Some of the homeowners just now seeing the end began visualizing their fate years ago, as their land started falling into the bay several feet at a time instead of hardly noticeable centimeters.
The end is nigh for 10 homeowners. A cliff erosion committee is meeting periodically to talk about options for the remaining homeowners. Hopefully it will not take another several years and the imminent danger of several homes falling into the bay to get the powers that be to address the erosion problem. We’re not out of the woods yet.