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Army Corps of Engineers deems Ellicott City flood plan ‘sound,’ with no timeline of implementation in sight

Howard County hosted a public meeting Monday night to present the Army Corps of Engineers’ evaluation of the county’s $140 million Ellicott City flood mitigation plans.

Andy Layman, project manager for the study from the Army Corps, detailed advantages, challenges and considerations for 14 different flood reduction management strategies. He said the county followed a “sound process” in its plans.

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“They wanted a gut check, an independent review of what they’ve done so far and we provided that,” Layman said.

While the Army Corps of Engineers, a federal agency that oversees flood protection among its missions, did not make an official recommendation to the county, it provided an independent evaluation at Monday evening’s meeting. It’s still unclear when the five-year plan will be implemented.

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“I can’t speak to how quickly they’re going to move forward. That’s going to be on their end,” Layman said of the county’s timeline. “Our evaluation looked at how each of those measures compared to each other … but we weren’t tasked and we didn’t look specifically at how quickly the county can move forward.”

“We still have an aggressive plan for trying to implement, but again that depends upon everything falling into place,” Ball said.

Ball said there were funding concerns, particularly with the current unpredictable financial state of the country, citing the 2,000-point drop of the Dow Jones Industrial Average index Monday largely reaction to fears of the spreading coronavirus.

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The mitigation plan was developed in response to historic floods that ripped through downtown Ellicott City in 2016 and 2018, killing three people and causing severe damage.

In November, the county began purchasing 10 properties on lower Main Street to make room for widened stream beds to accommodate floodwaters. According to the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation, the sale of the 10th property, the Phoenix Emporium, has not yet been completed.

“We are finalizing the process, but we have made the acquisition,” Ball said.

As part of the county’s plan, Ball has selected eight projects for implementation including the North Tunnel, Terraced Floodplain, and West End Floodplain and Conveyance as part of the Safe and Sound plan. All eight measures, as well as six others, were evaluated by the Army Corps of Engineers. Among the eight measures the county has selected to implement, four were in the top tier of recommendations by the Corps.

“There is still flood risk for Ellicott City, so part of this study included identifying additional considerations, measures for the county to potentially further reduce that flood risk to Ellicott City,” Layman said.

County Councilwoman Liz Walsh was among the 30 residents in attendance and said she was happy with the Army Corps of Engineers presentation; she cautioned that many of the solutions presented have been suggested since the 2016 with no implementation.

“We need to do something to protect that town, and we still haven’t, to a large extent, undertaken a plan to do that,” Walsh said.

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