One year ago this weekend, floodwaters cascaded through parts of historic Ellicott City, killing two people, causing millions of dollars in damage and prompting months of reckoning with the costs and benefits of rebuilding in a flood-prone downtown.
A number of the businesses have returned but some proprietors admit to more than a bit of anxiety when severe thunderstorm warnings are issued as the cloudbursts that pop up in the humid mid-Atlantic summertime approach.
Even as commemorations of the flood and celebrations of a rebirth continue, the infectious enthusiasm to restore Ellicott City needs to be tempered with the reality that "flood proofing" the area will be exorbitantly expensive, if not impossible.
Initial findings from one of the first engineering studies to be completed provided a glimpse of costs for one facet of flood control: $85 million for stormwater retention ponds and a network of underground systems designed hold or channel runoff from heavy rains in the watershed area.
And while experts say the chances of another major flood occurring in Ellicott City in the next century are low — around 1 percent — the enormity of last summer's devastation can't be dismissed. The toll on the family, friends and colleagues of those who lost their lives itself is incalculable.
Finding the right balance of risk and reward remains the challenge for policymakers.
The search for answers has to involve a discussion of relocating shops and restaurants away from the danger zone and adding parks and open spaces that could connect with the Patapsco River valley and state park, described in a 2012 "action plan" as "an underutilized amenity."
The recovery of Ellicott City, and community resilience, has been remarkable. Directing the same spirit and enthusiasm into realistic, affordable solutions will be essential to sustaining what the 2012 Community Action Plan said was a "unique sense of place."