Most buildings bought in Ellicott City flood mitigation plan

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball said 25 Ellicott City businesses have opened or reopened after the 2018 flooding. (WTOP/Neal Augenstein)

The Howard County, Maryland, government has acquired all but one of 10 flood-prone buildings on and near Main Street as part of County Executive Calvin Ball’s plan to reduce risk from future flooding.

When Ball took office, the county’s plan, which he inherited, called for 10 historic buildings to be razed in the wake of devastating floods in 2016 and 2018. Ball’s plan reduced the number of buildings that had to be demolished to four.

”To date, we have now acquired nine of those buildings, and under our plan, six will now have a portion at least preserved,” Ball said.

After the 2018 storm — the second so-called “thousand-year flood” in two years — Ball and his predecessor, Allan Kittleman, sought to soothe concerns of business owners who were repeatedly battered during extraordinary flooding.

During heavy rains, torrents of water typically cascade downhill on Main Street, toward the Patapsco River.

Ball said two projects — retention ponds located high in the watershed, which are intended to capture waters to prevent them flowing toward Main Street — are slated to start construction within the next year, with two other projects to start in FY2021.

“This is part of the process,” Ball said, standing before display boards listing more than a dozen projects, ranging from smaller ones, such as drain improvements, to massive projects, including plans to bore and run a tunnel parallel to Main Street that will carry floodwaters underground directly to the Patapsco.

”We can’t have every project done as fast as we want,” Ball said. “We can’t even start every project as quickly as we want.”

Though heavy rains will certainly fall during the years of construction, Ball said, “As we’re moving forward with these projects, there is going to be an impact for each and every one of these.”

In addition to the long-term construction projects, Howard County has instituted an emergency alert system to warn people nearby when a flash flood warning has been issued. Recently, the county purchased another speaker array to increase the range of the alerts.

The National Weather Service and the county have worked to create a new designation, after one confusing instance when the Main Street alerts didn’t sound, despite a warning being issued for Ellicott City.

Now, when flooding will be severe on Main Street, alerts refer to “Historic Ellicott City” as the impacted area, instead of Ellicott City as a whole.

”As the next big storm comes, we’re going to be as prepared as possible,” Ball said. “And it won’t be until the completion [of construction] that we will see all of these parts work together, to their maximum efficiency.”

Ball said to date, since taking office, 25 businesses have opened or reopened, in part because of grants secured to help Ellicott City business owners rebuild after the 2018 flooding.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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