‘Significant investments’ needed to keep floodwaters from Ellicott City

ELLICOTT CITY, Md. — Blocks from where businesses and homeowners continue to clean up, a Senate subcommittee Monday discussed preventing another deadly flash flood.

“Significant investments are needed to ensure that floodwaters can be effectively managed and directed away from Ellicott City,” said U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Democrat representing Maryland’s 7th District, during testimony before Maryland’s two senators, Democrats Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen.

Both senators, who serve on the Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittee, held the field oversight hearing Monday at the Howard County government building.

Ellicott City was struck in May by a second deadly flash flood in less than a two-year period. A severe storm brought several inches of rain in a matter of minutes, sending stormwaters rushing downhill through the city’s historic Main Street before finally emptying into the Patapsco River.

Before May’s flooding, the county had been working on several projects recommended in an engineering report that called for $80 million in projects overall. County officials said they need help from the state and federal levels to get the necessary work done.

“We know what we can do and what we can’t do, so we’re asking for federal and state agencies to help,” said Mark DeLuca, deputy director of Howard County public works.

In January, the Army Corps of Engineers issued recommendations that included non-structural improvements that store owners and others could take to better protect their properties, such as installing flood doors and waterproofing buildings.

Col. John Litz, commander of the Baltimore Army Corps of Engineers district, recommended a broader study Monday that includes a look at structural changes and that encompasses a wider area.

“What I recommended was that we look at the watershed as a whole so that measures that we recommend and potentially would emplace would take into account more area than just around the Ellicott City area,” Litz said.

Any new studies would come with a big price tag, as would any recommendations that come from them. Litz said doing the study would also need to be approved by Congress.

“Let’s figure out what the price tag is, and let’s figure out how we’re all going to pay for it, and let’s get it done,” Van Hollen said.

Cardin agreed that more extensive studies need to be done in the area.

“We want the Army Corps to catch up, so we want them to be able to have the best information of cost benefits of major changes and then tie into the local plans,” Cardin said.

Also among the speakers: the Ellicott City Partnership’s Mathew Fleming, who said the county can’t make necessary improvements alone. He urged lawmakers to secure more federal funding for flood-mitigation projects and also pushed for state and federal funding to purchase properties that have been repeatedly damaged, so that the land can be used to improve stormwater drainage.

Sally Tennant, the owner of Discoveries on Main Street, hopes destroying buildings hit the hardest doesn’t become part of the final plan.

“What might be interesting is to see if there are new options which don’t involve tearing down the buildings,” Tennant said.


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