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Howard County Times
Howard County

Restoring Ellicott City's glory [Commentary]

It has been labeled a "once in a lifetime" storm that caused major flooding and destruction in Ellicott City.

The rainfall and wind from Hurricane Agnes, in 1972, were overwhelming and damage to homes and businesses from rushing, murky Patapsco River waters took months to restore.

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Since its founding as a mill town in the late 1700s, parts of Ellicott City have been decimated by flooding too many times: "The Great Flood" of 1868 killed nearly four dozen people. Other major floods, mainly from tropical storms or hurricanes, are in the record books from 1901, 1917, 1923, 1942, 1952, 2006 and 2011.

This summer's storm, a meteorological anomaly when more than 6 inches of rain fell in less than three hours, shows how inaccurate that "once in a lifetime" pronouncement was.

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As heroic cleanup efforts continue, and a special study group led by a former county executive takes shape to study any and all rebuilding options, the committee would be wise to listen to a rising chorus suggesting that rebuilding Ellicott City to its glory days is folly.

That's not to suggest that the historic core be bulldozed and replaced with parks, but rather the costs and benefits of a more sophisticated, engineered flood-control system be carefully weighed against the economic realities of maintaining a historic tourist and boutique shopping and dining destination. With a number of shopkeepers already saying they couldn't afford flood insurance, is it realistic to redevelop a flood-prone area in the same way?

Other waterfront cities that experience regular flooding – including Old Town Alexandria, Va., Harpers Ferry, W.Va. and Annapolis – have coped for decades with rising waters and remain viable. Frederick City's Carroll Creek flood control channels, a controversial multimillion dollar project, became one catalyst for a rebirth of the downtown along a linear park. Protecting property and lives from flooding can be done.

Elected leaders are expediting cleanup and recovery efforts and the assistance they've coordinated on short notice has been praiseworthy. Yet the presumption that rebuilding the Main Street area to the way things were before the July 30th flooding must be challenged and tested, using facts and science, not emotion.


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