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Ellicott City must adapt to survive future floods, officials say

Kate Magill
Contact ReporterHoward County Times

Life safety is at the heart of Howard County’s plans for the future of Ellicott City and the time has come for a “new conversation” over how the historic district and the Patapsco River can “co-exist” following last month’s deadly flood, County Executive Allan Kittleman said Thursday night.

The recurrence of powerful storms and the floodwaters they bring is a reality that must be addressed as a “transformative” plan is drawn up, Kittleman told more than 200 people at a public meeting to provide flood updates at Howard High School.

Damage to the historic district’s infrastructure is estimated at $20.8 million, nearly double the damage caused in a 2016 flood. In 2016, Ellicott City had $11.9 in damage to areas such as roads and sidewalks. The increased cost is due in part to $7 million of repairs needed to New Cut Road, according to county spokesman Mark Miller.

Kittleman and County Councilman Jon Weinstein, the Democrat who represents the area, said they would advocate that a local state of emergency be extended so traffic in the Main Street area doesn’t impede cleanup efforts as businesses work to reopen.

The May 27 flood, touched off by torrential rainfall, killed National Guardsman Eddie Hermond and decimated the popular shopping and restaurant district.

It’s prompted renewed, often angry calls from property and business owners for the county to better address flood mitigation in the town and stop stormwater runoff from damaging the area, which Kittleman admitted during the meeting is “no question” made worse by surrounding developments.

Weinstein introduced a bill earlier this month to place a moratorium on development in the surrounding watershed for a year. Kittleman commended the push for a “pause” on development to plan for the town’s future.

Stores in the historic district have begun to reopen as construction and cleanup continues. About 25 stores will be open in the district by this weekend, according to Maureen Sweeney Smith, executive director of the nonprofit the Ellicott City Partnership.

The two officials also introduced the beginnings of plans to revise Ellicott City’s master plan for long-term design and flood mitigation. A draft of the original plan was to be released shortly before the flood but was delayed and now, Kittleman said, will be revised in light of the May disaster.

One possible revision, Kittleman said, could be to expand stream channels and the flood plain to better allow water to move naturally to the Patapsco River.

Business owners, such as Bean Hollow coffee shop owner Gretchen Shuey and Charlene Townsend, owner of Maxine’s Antiques, pressed for greater detail on the plan, and soon. Shuey criticized officials for their lack transparency with the master plan and what could happen to some of the buildings in the district. Townsend expressed anger and despair over what’s become of the her 52-year-old shop.

“I am so hurt,” Townsend said. “This has been my life. And even if I get the money together to come back, why would I come back?”

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