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Howard County Executive Ball would hope to complete Ellicott City’s flood mitigation plan during second term

If reelected, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball said he would aim to see the completion of the Ellicott City Safe and Sound plan during his second term.

Last week, Ball became the first to announce his candidacy for county executive in the 2022 race. He spoke to the Howard County Times earlier this week about his candidacy and the future of Ellicott City, a community ravaged by two historic storms in the past five years.

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In March, Ball announced nine buildings that were previously set to be demolished as a part of the Safe and Sound plan for Ellicott City flood mitigation efforts would now be saved. In this amended proposal, the planned tunnel commonly referred to as the north tunnel would also be extended, stretching 5,000 feet parallel to Main Street. By extending the tunnel, the plan to remove the nine county-owned buildings in the West End area became unnecessary, he said.

This was a major shift from the original Safe and Sound plan which was selected back in 2019.

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“When we came in, there was a plan that left a significant amount of water on Main Street with relatively high velocity. It was going to take down 10 buildings which would change the character of Main Street Ellicott City,” Ball said. “And there was not only a great deal of division, but there were still significant vacancies in buildings and frankly there was a lot of fear and anxiety.”

The previous plan with the shorter tunnel and West End projects was estimated to cost about $74 million, according to Mark DeLuca, deputy director of the Department of Public Works. The cost for the tunnel extension will remain the same.

“I’d love by the end of a second Ball term to have all the projects completed,” Ball said. “As we were known throughout the nation in 2016 and 2018 for our tragedy, I want us to be known for our triumph. I want us to be known as the community who utilized the best technology, came together and was as prepared as possible for that next big storm.”

The county is currently waiting to hear if it has been approved for the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act funding from the Environmental Protection Agency. In January, the county was selected to apply to finance flood mitigation projects including the north tunnel. The funding would cover the entirety of the extended tunnel project.

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If the county receives the funding, which Ball said in February he was confident would happen, it can borrow up to 49% of the cost of the Safe and Sound plan. The remaining 51% would be funded by the county and through other sources. The county would not have to repay the loan until construction is complete.

The extended north tunnel eliminated the need for the 8777 culvert project, the 8600 culvert project and the 8552 berm/bypass project that were originally planned to alleviate flooding in the West End of Ellicott City.

The Safe and Sound plan also includes the creation of a flood mitigation pond at the intersection of Route 40 and Rogers Avenue to increase water retention, retrofitting the existing Quaker Mill Pond on Rogers Avenue, constructing culverts at Maryland Avenue, adding additional culverts to carry the Tiber River under the road at 8534 and 8600 Main St., and creating a berm, or soil barrier, at 8552 Main St., among other projects.

The entirety of the Safe and Sound plan is estimated to cost $113 million to $140 million. For the past two years, Ball has said he wants to fully implement the flood plan by 2025, but no timeline has been confirmed.

Last week the Maryland Board of Public Works approved a $2.4 million grant for the Hudson Branch No. 7 mitigation pond project, one of the projects included in the Safe and Sound plan.

“We didn’t have this level of state funding and support before we got into office. We didn’t have the opportunity to apply for a [Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act] loan for the Maryland Avenue culvert expansion and the extended north tunnel,” Ball said. “There wasn’t even a significant conversation about an extended north tunnel when we took over.”

In the meantime, if there were to be another historic flood in Ellicott City, Ball said he thinks the county is better prepared than before.

“Every time there was a forecast of rain in the state, I would get numerous people reaching out to me, afraid for Ellicott City,” Ball said. “That has significantly calmed, and I think that the confidence in how we are moving forward has significantly grown.”

Many residents, however, argue the long-term solutions do not address the potential for flooding issues in the meanwhile, such as the Halloween scare of 2019 when heavy rains unexpectedly swept through the community and when Tropical Storm Isaias dumped rain on the Mid-Atlantic in August.

“I don’t have any sense that our government is going to move quickly enough to help us in any substantial way,” said Christina Page, a West End resident, after Tropical Storm Isaias. “That takes a toll on you.”

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