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Maryland Gov. Hogan visits Howard County to break ground on fire station; state sold property for $1

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, left, speaks with Howard County Councilman Opel Jones, center, and Howard County Executive Calvin Ball before a groundbreaking ceremony on Thursday morning for the new Waterloo fire station off of Route 1.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, left, speaks with Howard County Councilman Opel Jones, center, and Howard County Executive Calvin Ball before a groundbreaking ceremony on Thursday morning for the new Waterloo fire station off of Route 1.

Gov. Larry Hogan on Thursday broke ground for a fire station on land the state sold to Howard County for $1.

State officials previously told local officials it would sell the 6-acre lot for $3.5 million, allotting land to build a 13th fire station in Jessup. But because of the deadly flooding that hit historic Ellicott City in 2016 and 2018, the state agreed to sell it for $1, allowing the county to use the remainder to pay for infrastructure to reduce future torrential flood waters.

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Howard Executive Calvin Ball in May announced the county would pursue a plan to ease flooding. It could cost as much as $140 million. The plan includes boring a tunnel parallel to Main Street, building retention ponds and fully razing four buildings located above the Tiber channel. The county said it will use the $3.5 million to help pay for Ball’s flood plan.

“This really is a shining example of all levels of government working together to make our citizens and our community safer,” Hogan said at the ground breaking. The Republican noted his non-political experience involves real estate and that he knows about land values. “Howard County got a great deal on this site."

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“Don’t spend it all in one place,” Ball joked to Hogan after handing over the oversized ceremonial check made out to “Gov. Larry Hogan and the people of Maryland” for $1.

Ball, a Democrat, said Howard County has many amenities, but “if people don’t feel safe, many of those other things don’t matter.” A county news release said the new fire station in Jessup is “urgently needed to support the growth of residential housing in the area and provide the best possible emergency response time.”

Fire department spokesman Brad Tanner in an email said the Waterloo fire station is estimated to cost $13.09 million. Tanner could not say when they hoped the construction would be completed as the fire department is “working with the architect and permit process focusing on reducing the size of the station to make it more cost effective and energy efficient.”

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball, second from right, presents a ceremonial check for $1 to Gov. Larry Hogan for the 6-acre property that the state is transferring to the county for a new fire station. Joining in the presentation are County Councilman Opel Jones, far left, and county Fire Chief Christine Uhlhorn.
Howard County Executive Calvin Ball, second from right, presents a ceremonial check for $1 to Gov. Larry Hogan for the 6-acre property that the state is transferring to the county for a new fire station. Joining in the presentation are County Councilman Opel Jones, far left, and county Fire Chief Christine Uhlhorn.

Last October, the County Council voted to divert $17 million within the capital budget to partially fund former Howard Executive Allan Kittleman’s and former Councilman Jon Weinstein’s flood plan.

Ball previously said that as councilman, he voted against these bills because it did not address problems he believed would have been addressed by his amendments which failed to pass. One of his proposed amendments would disallow the county from diverting money from the Jessup fire station to pay for the Kittleman-Weinstein flood plan.

Tanner in a November email said the County Council’s move to defer funding would “not have any immediate effect" on the fire department’s construction plans.

A county official previously said the Ball administration is “pursuing” a public-private partnership to pay for the two most expensive projects in the plan — a large retention pond located south of the Tiber River and the tunnel which will run parallel to Main Street. The pond is projected to cost $20 million and the tunnel is projected to cost between $50 million to $77 million.

The county would likely not have to pay this bill, which will accrue interest, until the projects construction is complete. Cheaper projects, including the culverts to be placed along Maryland Avenue and smaller retention ponds, will be paid through the capital budget, the county official previously said.

A news release from the Hogan administration said the state committed $8 million over three years to reduce flooding in historic Ellicott City’s flood mitigation efforts, as well as $250,000 to help install a public alert system.

Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.

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