At its highest points of elevation, St. George Island is only about 8 feet above sea level.
The small southern county island, surrounded by the Potomac River and St. George Creek, has been ravaged by several hurricanes and tropical storms over the decades. Twice a day, during high tide, the water often washes over the main road running through the island, Route 249, Al George, president of the St. George Island Improvement Association, said.
When there’s a storm, it takes “three days for the water to go down” off the road, George said. “If you have a low car, you won’t be able to get off the island,” he added.
During heavier storms, residents can become stranded on the island until the water — sometimes between 4 to 6 inches of it — runs off, but it can “get stuck” in ponds across the road, unable to drain out of pipes that are clogged with sand, Commissioner Mike Hewitt (R) said in a recent interview.
“If they get a really bad storm, a hurricane, there’s 200 [residents] that could be cut off from getting out of there,” Hewitt said.
Those issues have been going on for a decade, if not longer. A stone revetment was installed years ago by the state, which oversees Route 249, along the left southbound side on the island, but “they didn’t run it down the entire length” of the island, said Zane Rettstatt, an engineer with the St. Mary’s County Department of Public Works and Transportation.
“Where [the revetment] stops is where this problem starts,” Hewitt said.
County officials said they have been working with state legislators, Maryland State Highway Administration and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to work out a solution for the “little pocket that has eroded” along the shoreline, Rettstatt said.
Hewitt said those conversations have gone on for over a year now, but “out of the blue, it just stopped.”
During a discussion about construction projects at Tuesday’s county commissioners’ meeting, Rettstatt said SHA was sent DNR’s estimate of construction costs, but, “it’s tough to get a hold of them.”
John Deatrick, director of public works, said at the meeting that state administration’s local office “is pretty leanly staffed” and relies on its Baltimore office for “a whole series of things, which really bogs down our communication with them.”
State highway crews “have been working under a permit to remove sand debris from pipes to mitigate flooding of roadways” on the island, a spokesperson for the agency said.
She added that the administration “is in the very early discussion phases” with county officials “about a long-term solution” to the flooding and drainage issues, “and we look forward to investigating further this spring.”
Hewitt said earlier discussions involved essentially just extending the stone revetment, but Rettstatt said several different options are currently being considered.
“If we can control the wave action, and just deal with the absolute level of the tide, we’d be in a lot better shape,” Deatrick said in an interview.
Some residents have also expressed their concern over the structural integrity of the single bridge leading onto the island, but a state highway assessment determined it to be in fair condition, Hewitt said. Although, “We gotta keep an eye on it,” he said.
The public works department is moving forward with a number of local projects.
Construction on the adult detention center in Leonardtown is slated to break ground in July, but inclement weather has delayed the opening of the new Leonardtown library and Garvey Senior Center by one month, and is expected to open its doors in January 2020, rather than by the end of this year. Construction on the new sheriff’s office substation in Lexington Park has also been pushed back by a month, and is anticipated to be completed in December.