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Weinstein eyes 'rebirth' of Ellicott City as flood clean-up continues

Councilman Jon Weinstein surveys plans as local and state officials work to clean up Ellicott City after major flooding on Saturday.
Councilman Jon Weinstein surveys plans as local and state officials work to clean up Ellicott City after major flooding on Saturday. (Courtesy of Jon Weinstein)

When Jon Weinstein, who represents Ellicott City on the county council, woke up in a hotel in Spain on July 31, he could not believe what he was seeing.

Social media posts showed major flooding sweeping through Ellicott City and parts of what he called his "second home," carrying cars and people away like leaves in the current.

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"I thought it was somewhere else. I couldn't figure out what I was looking at," he said.

For the next several days, Weinstein was on the phone, thousands of miles of way, coordinating relief efforts along with local and state officials. He flew back to Maryland on Friday, Aug. 5, cutting his family trip short by several days. The Howard County Council is in recess in August.

Even though he arrived when significant cleanup was completed on Main Street, he was still shocked to see the extent of the damage.

Early estimates put the damage at at least $20 million, a preliminary number that is expected to rise, according to county officials.

On Tuesday, Gov. Larry Hogan asked the federal Small Business Administration to declare a disaster in Howard County as a result of the flash flooding that struck Ellicott City July 30.

Such a declaration would clear the way for businesses, homeowners and renters to apply for low-interest loans to repair damages caused by the destructive flood, which killed two people.

The governor's request came after the Maryland Emergency Management Agency joined county and federal officials in assessing damage last week.

According to the governor's office, SBA disaster loans can be used to repair or replace real estate, personal property, machinery, equipment, inventory and business assets that were damaged or destroyed.

Weinstein is confident the town will come back stronger than ever. People from the west end of Main Street, residents and business owners have banded together in an unprecedented show of unity, Weinstein said.

"The history behind the buildings is important … but that pales in comparison to the people that live in the community," Weinstein said. "It's known for its charm. It's not charming because of its building. It's charming because of what goes on there and who is there."

What shocked him even more was hearing suggestions that the town, known for its historic charm and small businesses, should not rebuild.

"Does it make sense to rebuild? This is a common question that's asked when there is a major flood. It's just not relevant here. [Ellicott City] has withstood all these years," Weinstein said.

As the county transitions in Ellicott City from emergency response to rebuilding, building a stronger floodwater management system will be a major priority, county officials said.

Floodwaters did the work of more expensive stormwater management projects by "tearing up the street," Weinstein said.

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Weinstein said the destruction of much of the town opens up unique opportunities for state and federal funding that will pay for modern infrastructure that can manage stormwater better.

"Unfortunately, the flood did some of that for us." Weinstein said, opening up the opportunity to rebuild infrastructure with "more modern standards" and flood control "at a broader scale."

Still, Weinstein said, it was important to acknowledge even the most modern system would have been "taxed" by the storm.

"This is not a question of if we're going to rebuild. The question is how? And that is 'better.' The question is when? And that is 'as soon as possible.'"

—Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun, contributed to this story.

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