Volunteers help prepare residences and businesses for Hurricane Florence. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun video)
In her recent letter to the editor, the chair of the Ellicott City Flood Workgroup, Debra Ann Slack Katz, presented an excellent case for supporting Howard County's five-year plan for protecting old Ellicott City from future devastating floods (“Ellicott City's flood plan must move forward,” Sept. 8). It is clear that the county and workgroup have thoroughly studied the problem, engaged hydraulic experts and weighed many options and costs. I am sure that all involved in this process feel that this plan is the best for old Ellicott City and that it is past time to get started — the threat of another flash flood disaster may be just around the corner.
And yet, after all of the studies, the plan has missing pieces which even Ms. Katz admits. These are not little things — they are huge. They should not be left out. Besides the additional important hydraulic proposals being left out, how in the world would the county leave out a "new flood-proofing insurance program?” Ellicott City is an historic gem for Howard County, drawing thousands of visitors from all over the region. The businesses and residents have borne the full risk of living and working there without any benefit of insurance protection. Why shouldn't the county give them the financial support against future flood losses for taking the risk to keep old Ellicott City alive for all of us to enjoy?
There are at least two other major missing pieces in the plan that Ms. Katz does not mention. First, the issue of parking on Main Street. It appears that much structural damage was due to 3,000-pound cars cascading down the street and into buildings. This problem can be eliminated by banning parking on the street (it had been proposed before) and improving accessible parking behind the buildings and at the upper courthouse lots. Second, prohibiting or controlling future development in the flood drainage area was not addressed. There are two options here: Halt all future development in the drainage area (which I am sure is not politically acceptable) or revise the county building code to require developers to increase the volume of their on-site storm water retention areas to handle a "thousand year storm" which now seems to be occurring every two years.
Old Ellicott City is an historic gem and tourist attraction for Howard County and for Maryland. Doing all of the things to save it from future flash flood disasters is an urgent necessity and the people and businesses who live and work there deserve nothing less. Correcting this serious problem is an emergency, not a regular construction project, and should be put on a fast track by instituting a special designated flash-flood tax. Ultimately, the plan must contain all of the necessary pieces to do it right.