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Howard encourages community input on controversial Ellicott City flood mitigation plan

Howard County officials are emphasizing the importance of public input for the plan to protect Ellicott City from catastrophic flooding.

Residents on Monday will be able to testify on the county’s plan to transfer existing capital funds to flood mitigation programs that are expected to cost tens of millions of dollars.

A plan to shift $15.8 million for improvements in Ellicott City, and $1 million for Valley Mede/Chatham flood mitigation to improve drainage and add other stormwater management systems in the community near Ellicott City, is being proposed.

Money would be diverted from the county’s contingency fund, technology infrastructure upgrades, construction of a fire station on Route 1 and improvements to the East Columbia Library Athletic Field.

Republican County Executive Allan Kittleman, who was not present at a Wednesday night meeting put on by the Master Plan Advisory Team, said in a video that the “recommendations are difficult but necessary decisions to make Ellicott City more resilient and better than before.”

The county is considering demolishing 19 buildings to expand waterways that would relieve Ellicott City from potential flooding. The plan, which is contingent on approval from the Historic Preservation Commission, could cost $50 million. The properties demolished would be replaced with open spaces and to widen and deepen the channel for the Tiber River.

County officials considered the plan after being approached by “several property owners, residents and people with homes/commercial buildings” to purchase their land, said Councilman Jon Weinstein, a Democrat who represents Ellicott City.

This proposal has been criticized by Preservation Maryland, a nonprofit concerned it would lead to the town’s removal from the National Register of Historic Places.

Officials in May 2017 initiated a long-term master plan to address longstanding flooding issues that has befallen the county.

After a May 27 flood devastated lower Main Street and left one person dead, the advisory team incorporated elements of a 2016 a flood and stormwater flow modeling analysis as well as the existing master plan to create a five-year plan to mitigate Ellicott City flooding.

The committee said it will cost $40 million to $50 million and aims for a completion within five years. The projects, which include expanding the culvert on Main Street and Ellicott Mills, are designed around the 2016 Patapsco River water levels during the July flood which was .11 feet more than the May flood, said Christopher Brooks, a spokesman for McCormick & Taylor, a consultant that conducted the 2016 hydrologic and hydraulic modeling analysis.

Officials said all projects will work toward their core goals: creating an accessible and attractive downtown, increasing green space, preserving the history and distinctive elements of Ellicott City and strengthening the economy of West End and Main Street. Officials during the summer incorporated elements of the 2016 modeling report, as well as the existing master plan, to create a short-term plan to mitigate Ellicott City flooding.

Ellicott City is in a valley and rivers and streams feel into the town, where the water was used to power mills centuries ago.

The city has endured 15 catastrophic floods since 1768 — two came in 2017 and May 27 of this year which brought 7.5 inches of water over five hours—most of which fell in three hours, according to Ryan Miller, director of the county Office of Emergency Management.

Four of the flooded buildings are beyond repair, Weinstein said. The original stone courthouse, which was built in the 1820s and owned by the Ellicott family, collapsed during the storm, according to county spokesman Mark S. Miller, who said in an email there are no immediate plans to rebuild the structure.

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