When Brenda Baldwin-Marshall surveys the backyard of her Bowie home, she can only see part of her property. The rest has been swallowed up by a murky brown lake that appeared after the snow melted and has remained stagnating for three months because of damaged drainage ditches overseen by coal transportation company CSX.
Baldwin-Marshall and her husband, Ulysses Marshall, occupy one of about five homes in their neighborhood that back up to train tracks operated by CSX and have experienced periodic flooding since around 2005, she said.
“We’ve lost grass,” he said, referring to much of the couple’s landscaping that is lost beneath the approximate three feet of water. “I had planted trees here — they’re all dead.”
CSX maintains four culverts — or drainage ditches — in Bowie that carry water away from the tracks. When outside forces like beaver activity or erosion block the culverts, it can create flooding or track damage, said CSX spokesman Rob Doolittle.
Currently, one of the culverts near Baldwin-Marshall’s neighborhood is completely collapsed, Doolittle said.
John Fitzwater, Bowie’s assistant city manager, said residents in several Bowie communities — such as Old Stage and Tall Oaks Crossing — have complained about recurring water damage from overflowing culverts and that CSX representatives visited the area on June 20 to inspect the tracks and culverts and identify solutions.
“It’s a serious issue with regards to water backing up behind people’s property, intruding onto their property and causing a train derailment,” he said. “We have brought this to CSX’s attention in the past. Our feeling is that the problem is not being resolved in an expeditious fashion.”
Following the June inspection, CSX engineers developed plans to repair or replace all four culverts in Bowie — starting with the collapsed culvert — within 60 days, Doolittle said.
“As a result of the meeting, there are several actions we’ve agreed on to address the drainage issues,” Doolittle said. “The [inspectors] believe the repair work will improve the drainage and that should alleviate issues adjacent to the track.”
Dunham McManus, who lives next door to Baldwin-Marshall, said he is not optimistic about CSX’s response. He said he has had water seeping through his retaining wall for months, softening the ground near large trees which could potentially fall on his home.
“That’s really a scary thing,” McManus said. “Until they come and drain [the water] and start construction, it’s just words.”
Brian Hammock, CSX’s community relations representative in Maryland, said in a statement that the company is eager to address any concerns.
“CSX is pleased to have the opportunity to work with the city and residents of Bowie to address areas of concern. We want to be good neighbors and if we can resolve concerns by working together on solutions, we’re happy to have the opportunity,” he said.