Freshman lawmaker wants more state aid for Ellicott City flood-control projects

Plans for sustained state funding that could help advance flood-control projects for historic Ellicott City will be proposed by a freshman delegate from Howard County.

Delegate-elect Courtney Watson, a Democrat who represents the historic town, said she wants to reboot the Comprehensive Flood Management Grant Program to provide long-term state funding to mitigate flooding in the town.

The Democrat is drafting a bill that might draw program funds from the state’s capital budget.

“Ellicott City is like the canary in the coal mine,” Watson said. “We need a long-term commitment from the state to help us with this problem.”

The program was created in 1976. Between 2000 and 2003, it received nearly $2 million in funding, according to Erik Shirk, director of communications for the state’s Department of Budget and Management. It has not seen funding since 2003.

Watson is proposing that grants could be used to acquire flood-prone properties and help finance flood-control projects and alarm systems.

Howard is working with the Department of Homeland Security and the National Weather Service on a “flood apex program,” a system that monitors river and stream levels in the Tiber-Hudson watershed.

The county has 48 devices in 16 locations throughout the watershed, which is in the historic district. The systems are monitored so alerts can be issued when waters rise, according Paul Milton, a spokesman for outgoing County Executive Allan Kittleman.

Watson said her second bill will seek to make stormwater management projects eligible for funds from the state’s Bay Restoration Fund Fee. The fund, partially financed through fees collected from residents who use sewers, was created in 2004 to upgrade wastewater treatment facilities. The fund on average collects $100 million annually from residents, according to the Department of the Environment.

Watson found support from outgoing Del. Robert Flanagan, a Republican who in November lost his seat to Watson, a former County Council member.

Though Flanagan has not seen a complete draft of her bills, he said he is “very supportive of any bills [Watson] files that seek funding for the reduction, management and elimination of floods in historic Ellicott City.”

The county is considering a five-year, $50 million plan to help prevent catastrophic flooding in Ellicott City by widening river channels and removing some buildings. The plan’s future is unclear as County Executive-elect Calvin Ball pinned himself an opponent of the plan throughout his campaign.

Ball as councilman voted against the bills that partially funded the $50 million project because his amendments, which he believed would address the plan’s shortfalls, were not approved. The Democrat, who will be sworn in tonight, previously said he intends to keep the timeline of the upstream projects. Ball previously declined to say if he will acquire the 13 buildings slated for demolition.

Outgoing Republican County Executive Kittleman in August announced the flood mitigation plan which has seen opposition from Preservation Maryland, a nonprofit that fears the razing of the buildings will tarnish the historic aura of the town.

Incoming Councilwoman Liz Walsh, a Democrat who will represent Ellicott City, said she welcomes legislation that brings more funding to address systemic flooding issues in the historic district.

“We all want as much support we can get from state actors,” said Walsh. “Hopefully we can get more detail from [state lawmakers] as it winds itself through the process.”

The state legislature opens next month.

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