Ellicott City's flood plan must move forward

As members of the Ellicott City Flood Workgroup, we’ve been working together to save Ellicott City since 2014. Some of us have very deep roots in town. We are local community leaders who have been studying and working on flood solutions for a long time. We would like to offer the following viewpoints for consideration. Howard County’s five-year plan unveiled on August 23rd is sound. We are sad about the proposal to demolish buildings on Lower Main Street, but after spending several hundred of hours of our time assessing, identifying, reviewing and proposing solutions to this problem, we believe that all of the options have been explored (“Ellicott City economy depends on its past — don’t destroy it,” Aug. 28).

We are aware of other actions that are being supported that have not been written into the plan such as the installation of an extensive stream monitoring system, a new flood-proofing insurance grant program, additional culverts proposed for removal or enlargement and comprehensive storm drain improvements along Church Street. The full picture and context of the five-year plan has not been communicated to the public, and members of the public are misconstruing aspects of the plan. We encourage the county to have a full debrief aired online of the proposal within the context of all of the past studies.

The 2016 hydrologic and hydraulic modeling tells us that Lower Main cannot be saved without considerable expense — to the tune of $70 million-plus for borings that would tunnel through mountain bedrock to outlet excess water and keep the buildings from flooding. These borings have not been assessed for their actual feasibility nor will implementing them mitigate water on Upper Main and the West End without the additional proposed retention and conveyance improvements. In addition, backwatering of the Patapsco into Lower Main remains a potential concern that no amount of upstream mitigation can address.

There is a significant constriction point under the Ellicott Mills Brewery that we have discussed time and again — the five-year plan proposes to re-route the channel over to Lot D thereby eliminating this very important issue. Daylighting the channel to Lot D will reduce flooding in the Upper Main area tremendously. Meanwhile, the channel between Lot D and the outlet to the Patapsco is extremely challenging. The culvert under the buildings starting at Caplans is only about 10 feet high, and cameras captured footage from 2018 with the water 20 feet deep at Caplans and 18 feet at the alley of EC Pops. The channel must be widened and deepened at this location to accommodate the flow — removal of the structures and floodplain expansion as proposed in the plan is necessary.

The New Cut Branch enters very low in the watershed behind the Caplans building. Of the three sub-watersheds, the New Cut carries the most flow and it is brought in at a very constricted location. With all proposed mitigation from the 2016 hydrologic and hydraulic model implemented, 2,500 or more cubic feet per second of water is still added from the New Cut Branch. Again, floodplain expansion at that location is necessary to accommodate the water. The channel walls supporting the structures are failing at many points as documented in May of 2016, two ravaging floods ago. The walls await, in jeopardy, with buildings on top them, for the next flood, that we know will come. Imagine the disaster if one of those buildings should wash into the channel and create a blockage while we debate next steps.

The 10 buildings cannot be saved where they stand. Despite what some are saying, including Preservation Maryland, Howard County’s five-year plan does include flood mitigation projects identified in McCormick Taylor’s 2016 hydrologic and hydraulic modeling studies. Preservation Maryland has offered to assist in further studies and planning efforts to protect the Lower Main structures. While this is generous, the support and advocacy would have been better received several years ago before we got to this point because now is the time for action. The issue has been studied ad nauseam, and we finally have an actionable plan.

We hope that some of the buildings can be restored in another location. We stand with County Executive Allan Kittleman, County Councilman Jon Weinstein and others in Howard County government in support of the proposed five-year plan for Ellicott City. As individuals who have been studying the issue and supporting and advocating for flood mitigation efforts in the community for a long time, we ask that you open your minds and hearts to this new future for Ellicott City because it’s time to prepare for tomorrow’s flood.

Debra Ann Slack Katz, Ellicott City

The writer is chair of the Flood Workgroup. The letter is also signed by workgroup members Lori Lilly, Ron Peters, Dave Myers, Ken McNaughton, Frank Durantaye and Kevin Bloom.

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