A year after Ellicott City reopened post-flood, officials continue planning for the future

Kate Magill
Contact ReporterHoward County Times

At last year’s Small Business Saturday, Ellicott City Main Street businesses celebrated the reopening of shops and welcomed people back to the historic district, nearly four months after the July 30, 2016 flood ravaged the area.

One year later, and county officials— from emergency management to planning and zoning and public works — continue to update and shape their policies and strategies for the future.

The efforts, which last week included the third set of Ellicott City Watershed Master Plan public workshops, are part of a widespread attempt to brace the area against future flooding, and to plan for how to be prepared when the next disaster does hit.

At the Nov. 14 and 15 public workshops, Mark DeLuca, chief of the Department of Public Works’ Bureau of Environmental Services, and Tom McGilloway from the consultant team Mahan Rykiel Associates, were among those sharing the current state of the master planning process with residents.

DeLuca updated residents on the four projects currently underway to build retention facilities and conveyance improvements in the watershed. The projects are the first wave of 18 project recommendations from the county’s hydrology and hydraulic study, completed this spring.

Three retention ponds, located in the Tiber, Hudson and New Cut waterways, are currently being designed, and completion of their construction could take up to three years, according to DeLuca.

McGilloway’s presentation focused on the options for constructing additional parking on or near Main Street. While not directly a flood mitigation strategy, improving the parking in the historic district is another component of the Ellicott City master plan.

Options for where to place additional parking included building a parking garage in one of the existing parking lots in the area. While those attending the Nov. 15 workshop, which included both business owners and residents, were in agreement that the area is in need of additional parking, people disagreed over where the most convenient space for a parking garage was: Parking Lot A, D or F.

“Ellicott City was not built for convenient parking,” McGilloway said. “But we can make the parking far better.”

The fourth master plan workshop will take place in January, and will focus more on the hydraulic improvements planned for the area, as well as recommendations for Main Street’s west end and watershed-wide strategies for flood mitigation.

The Department of Emergency Management, led by Director Ryan Miller, is in the midst of updating its policies for disaster response based on lessons learned during the flood, according to Miller. That includes updates to the county’s emergency operations plan and its community disaster recovery plan.

While the emergency operations plan is the county’s strategy for utilizing its resources immediately following a disaster like the 2016 flood, Miller said the recovery plan picks up where the emergency plan leaves off, and includes strategies for bringing the community back to a “normal” state.

The department hopes to finish its update of the recovery plan by the end of the year, Miller said, and to complete its update of the emergency operations plan in the next several months; any changes to the operations plan must be approved by the county executive.

The new plans will be filled with some of the 700 improvements Miller said his team, as well as a group of outside consultants from All Hands Consulting, compiled during and following the flood. The consultant team came to the county shortly after the flood, and spent more than a month working with the department to analyze its response to the disaster and how it could improve for the future.

Amanda Faul, an emergency management specialist in the department, said while 700 may sound like a large amount of improvements, the high number is due to the high level to which the county looked at its performance for ways to “fine-tune” it for the future.

“The sheer number of items that we had came from the fact that it had been a really good response, and so people were kind of fishing for those little nuggets that would have been perfect,” Faul said.

Some of these improvements were strategies that departments involved in disaster response, such as the department of recreation and parks, fixed as they were working through the flood, Miller said. Other improvements, such as a more efficient way for the Department of Corrections to deliver food to responders, were noted and are being worked through now.

Faul said the department is currently in the process of working with the department heads to see which recommendations are feasible to implement now from a financial and logistical viewpoint.

“We went to a deeper level, a more granular level in our system, and that’s due to the fact that we know we’ve got the team to go back and work on them,” Miller said. “We know that the departments are interested in knowing what worked and didn’t work. I don’t think any of us knew the capacity of Howard County and the community until we had this disaster.”

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