Pr. George’s County needs state funds to fix Piscataway Hills slope

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) told Piscataway Hills residents displaced by a landslide that the county scrounged up $11 million to pay for a plan developed by engineers that would stabilize the slope and repair the road in the Fort Washington area.

But the entire plan would cost $22 million, Baker said at a meeting Monday night.

Baker said county officials have appealed to the governor’s office for the additional funds and expect to get a response within two weeks.

If the state declines to provide the money, Baker said the next step would be to assess each of the 28 homes to compensate the homeowners for the loss of their property.

That process has already begun for the six homeowners whose properties are on the top of the hill. Those families have been out of their homes since May 5, while their neighbors farther down the hill returned in late May after temporary water lines were installed.

Prince George’s officials offered to apply for a federal grant through the state emergency management agency that would help the government acquire the six homes. But the program is voluntary and owners can pull out at will. Attaining the grant would be highly competitive and it could take at least a year to receive a response.

KCI Technologies engineers outlined a plan to drill and nail micropilings directly into the soil and reinforce it with concrete to anchor the ground. Officials cautioned that the repair would take six months and push residents out of their homes again.

However, if the work is completed, Baker said, there is no guarantee the slope would not move again.

Homeowners were skeptical and told county officials they seemed pessimistic about securing all the money for the repairs.

“I’m nervous about what they are going to offer us,” said homeowner Maureen Bartee.

She asked Deputy Chief Administrator of budget, finance and administrator Thomas M. Himler how officials determined that $11 million was all the county could contribute to the repair plan. He said the sum was the cumulative tax assessments of the affected Piscataway Hills properties.

“Why would you look at the values of homes as a way to look at how much it costs to fix the problem?” Bartee said. She said it seems like they are pushing the homeowners in the direction of having to give up their homes.

Baker said that was not so. “I don’t want to buy them out if I don't have to,” he said.

Neighbors continued to push the county to acknowledge other factors that could have caused the slope failure. After several homeowners asked the same question in different ways, Baker promised to examine the possibility that county officials failed to drain water away from the Marlboro Clay-laden hillside. The concession was met with applause.

“I guarantee we will look at every possible alternative you give us,” Baker said.

The Piscataway Hills homes in Fort Washington were evacuated May 5 after the main road cracked and water and sewer lines burst.

An engineering firm concluded in a report that slippery clay embedded deep within the slope began to slide as a result of torrential rain and a wet winter. Neighbors did not buy that.

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