- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 25, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — State officials have called Tropical Storm Isabel Maryland’s worst natural disaster ever, a storm that cost the state and its local governments at least $275 million.

Of that, all but about $110 million will likely be reimbursed by federal programs, state budget officials said Friday.

The Department of Budget and Management doesn’t have updated numbers from city governments other than Baltimore, so the figure will climb in the coming months, said Neil Bergsman, director of budget analysis for the department.

The total doesn’t tell the whole story, said Planning Secretary Audrey Scott.

Maryland officials may never have an accurate number for how much residents paid privately to repair their homes and businesses, she said.

“There is no way we’ll ever know the full cost of Hurricane Isabel,” Mrs. Scott said after briefing the House of Delegates’ Appropriations Committee on Friday.

The $275 million includes the cost to repair Maryland’s sprawling shoreline. The bulk of the shores — 97 percent — are privately owned by residents and will cost $69 million to repair.

“That’s an area we’ve identified as a gap,” Mrs. Scott said.

That damage is not covered by any state or federal program, but her department is negotiating with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to persuade that agency to pay for the repairs.

Mrs. Scott said she has a solid case for the reimbursement, namely, that flooding of developed areas may be polluting the Chesapeake Bay, as the tides wash into septic tanks and loose sediment and recede into the estuary.

Too much erosion harms the Bay’s delicate ecosystem by dumping in soil that clouds the water, which can smother grasses and suffocate shellfish.

The Army Corps helps oversee projects that affect the bay, because it falls under federal waterways laws.

Mrs. Scott said she hopes the Army Corps will chip in at least two-thirds of the $69 million.

Officials estimated Isabel chewed away $10 million worth of shoreline owned by local governments and $5 million of shores owned by state government.

Isabel’s storm surge of up to 8 feet crushed and collapsed bulkheads and seawalls, exposing chunks of the shore that were then quickly eroded.

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