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Fresh Water, Foul Sewage

Neighborhoodsby Mark Reutter10:01 amMay 2, 20240

Now-empty Lake Ashburton will be refilled, Baltimore officials vow. But when, no one will say

Somewhere between “several months” from now and “winter 2024” were the answers offered by DPW for the return of water to a landmark amenity in West Baltimore

Above: View from Vera Robinson’s window of the drained Lake Ashburton, with the downtown Baltimore skyline in the distance. (Mark Reutter)

Last night residents from Hanlon Park got an answer from city officials regarding the fate of their beloved Lake Ashburton.

The empty and bedraggled reservoir will be refilled with water, they were told.

But pinning down a timeline of when that might occur was another matter.

“I can’t speak to that right now,” Charles Oliver, project manager for the Baltimore Department of Public Works, said in a Zoom call with a dozen property owners and community leaders.

“I have a valve and an eight-inch potable water line that can fill the lake,” Oliver declared. “I just have to open the valve.”

But before that can happen, construction activities must be finished inside the lake, which he said will take “several months,” “many months” and, pressed once again, “winter 2024.”

“Not a good answer,” replied Linda Batts, president of the Hanlon Park Improvement Association, who noted that the DPW project to divert drinking water contained in the reservoir into two adjacent storage tanks has been repeatedly delayed.

“This project was to be completed two years ago. And now you can’t tell us when it will be done,” Batts said.

Jessica Phalin, whose house overlooks the lake on North Hilton Street, was even more direct.

“We feel as a whole that the city is intentionally pushing us out of the neighborhood with all this dust and earth shaking of our property. Then they’ll fill the lake and make everything pristine.”

Vera Robinson, who has lived for 36 years across from lake, said there is a disconnect between the community and the agency.

“They want us to trust them, and then they do what they want to do when they’re ready,” she said.

The east end of Lake Ashburton, near high-end residences along Powhatan Avenue. (Mark Reutter)

The east end of Lake Ashburton, near residences on Powhatan Avenue that have been covered with dust from the construction. BELOW: An artist’s sketch of Lake Ashburton and Hanlon Park upon completion of the tank project. (Mark Reutter, DPW)

lake ashburton - finished sketch

A Reservoir of Distrust

Residents have tried for weeks to get a response from DPW that addressed their concerns, and “have patiently waited for a year to talk to Recreation and Parks,” Batts said, regarding plans to return Hanlon Park, adjacent to the lake, to public space.

Cordoned off from the middle-class Black neighborhood since 2018, Hanlon Park remains off limits, with two 434-foot-diameter tanks currently protruding above Liberty Heights Avenue where a stand of mature trees once grew.

Ironically, the 100-acre park was given landmark status by the city after its trees and pathways were destroyed for the $137 million tank project.

With Lake Ashburton now a shallow, muddy puddle, residents are fed up with six-year-old reservoir project (4/12/24)

On its website, DPW says that upon completion of the tanks, “Lake Ashburton will remain as a beautiful freshwater amenity” with a playground and green space built over the tanks.

Oliver said more information about the lake and park should be available at a June 5 public meeting, while a DPW colleague, Yolanda Winkler, cautioned Batts and others to put their questions in writing.

“The community did not do due diligence before this meeting in submitting questions,” Winkler said, because DPW requires time to review and research citizen questions.

“They want us to trust them, and then they do what they want to do when they’re ready”  – Vera Robinson.

“We’re not trying to keep anything from you,” she added, saying in response to a complaint that drinking water has recently had a chalky taste, that DPW would be happy to test the water quality at properties near the lake.

The switch to storing water in the tanks rather than in Lake Ashburton has not affected the region’s drinking water, Oliver said, because the new system is self-contained and safer than when the water was subject to bird residue and pollution as an open-air reservoir.

DPW drained the lake so that Texas-based contractor Oscar Renda can install a tank overflow structure and an air bubbler system, which allows small air bubbles to leach oxygen into water inside the reservoir.

A 36-year property owner on Hilton Street, Vera Robinson stands in a small section of the park that remains open to strollers and dog walkers. (Mark Reutter)

Vera Robinson stands by the small segment of the lakeside park that’s still open to strollers and dog walkers. (Mark Reutter)

Permanently Lower Level

Oliver said the water level of refilled Lake Ashburton will be 3-5 feet lower than its current design to hydraulically allow the discharge of water from the tanks into the lake in case of an emergency.

Batts called on DPW to negotiate a memorandum of understanding with the community, so that promised parks amenities and the proper maintenance of the lake can be assured.

“We want to get this right for you all, but nothing will happen overnight”  – DPW’s Yolanda Winkler.

Oliver, Winkler and a third official, Anthony Greene, did not make any commitment.

Asked if the city could compensate residents for six years of dust, rock blasting and other inconveniences, Winkler replied, “We can’t give you any financial relief.”

Then echoing Oliver’s remarks, she said, “We want to get this right for you all, but nothing will happen overnight.”

• To reach a reporter: reuttermark@yahoo.com

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