Howard County needed to acquire 10 properties on lower Main Street before it could begin to roll out its five-year Ellicott City flood mitigation plan. In an update Monday morning, County Executive Calvin Ball said the county had purchased nine so far, leaving the Phoenix Emporium as the remaining holdout.
Phoenix proprietor Mark Hemmis said he is still in negotiations over ownership of the 40-year-old bar and restaurant but declined to discuss details. The Phoenix is one of four buildings scheduled to be razed under Ball’s potentially $140 million plan to make room for widened stream beds to accommodate floodwaters.
“Our goal is to stay in Ellicott City and to stay on Main Street,” Hemmis said.
Ball wants to fully implement the flood plan by 2025, but there is currently no firm timeline.
“There is a process, a permitting process, design," Ball said Monday. "We’re going to be moving forward as quickly as we can.”
Before the county can raze the four buildings and tear down back portions of another six, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will have to complete an assessment of the demolition’s historical impact. That process is supposed to wrap up by the end of next year, with the demolition “following shortly thereafter,” Ball said.
A public input meeting on the assessment will be scheduled in early March, Ball said. The Howard County Economic Development Authority will assess the best community uses for the six partially razed buildings above the Tiber channel, he said.
Howard County government also is seeking a second opinion on Ball’s Safe and Sound plan, which calls for the boring of a a 15-foot-wide tunnel running 1,600 feet and 80 to 100 feet deep along the north side of Main Street from Lot F on Ellicott Mills Road to the Patapsco River. The tunnel, running parallel to Main Street, would divert water cascading into the steep-sided valley during storms.
The county has sent out a request for qualifications for the tunnel’s design, Ball said.
The Army Corps of Engineers is reviewing the plan “to ensure that we are taking the best approach to protect Ellicott City,” Ball said.
The county expects to receive and release the federal agency’s analysis soon, he said.
The flood mitigation plan was unveiled in May after historic flooding twice tore through the old mill community, killing three people and destroying numerous businesses in 2016 and 2018.
On Monday, Ball said the plan would reduce floodwaters on Main Street to less than a foot should a flood occur on par with the one in 2018, which sent a 10-foot wall of water smashing through the community.
A representative for the Howard County Department of Public Works did not respond Monday to an interview request.
In the meantime, Ball said the county is making headway on smaller-scale stormwater management measures. A culvert at the bottom of Main Street on Maryland Avenue is in the design phase, and construction on the Quaker Mill retention pond off Rogers Avenue is expected to begin within a year.
“As the next big storm comes, we’re going to be as prepared as possible,” Ball said, but “we can’t have every project done as fast as we want. We can’t even start every project as quickly as we want.”
Baltimore Sun Media reporter Ana Faguy contributed to this article.