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'Ambitious but realistic' plan announced for Ellicott City flood mitigation

Posted at 6:32 PM, May 13, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-14 08:45:25-04

ELLICOTT CITY, Md. — Almost one year after devastating flooding in Ellicott City, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball has announced his plan to move the town forward and mitigate future flooding.

"We will do this right so we will not have to do this again and again," said Ball. "The plan is ambitious, but it's achievable and ti's realistic."

This announcement comes a month after he proposed five different options. The one he chose is a five-year plan that removes four lower Main Street buildings and adds a tunnel to alleviate flooding from the Hudson.

"By building the infrastructure necessary to improve public safety, we will create a future for Ellicott City that gives businesses a reason to invest, maintains the cultural value of Main Street, makes us a model of resilience, and helps to protect our town from a changing climate," said Ball.

He says the plan lowers water on Main Street to just two feet on average using the 2016 storm models.

"We don't run from our problems, and we don't leave our neighbors behind," said Ball.

"I would like to be one of the neighbors that's not left behind," said Phoenix Emporium owner Mark Hemmis.

His restaurants' building is one of the four to be removed, along with Discoveries, Bean Hollow, and Great Panes Art Glass Studio.

"This is all I know how to do. My entire adult life has been spent here. My kids were raised in this building. It's difficult," said Hemmis. "The Phoenix is being sacrificed to make room for other businesses to thrive."

"I have to replace of business location. I have to replace my real-estate investment, and I need a home so life as I knew it is over," said Discoveries owner Sally Tenant, who has been operating her business out of a temporary location.

The estimated price tag for the mitigation plan is between $113.5 and $140.5 million. Ball said it would be funded year-to-year.

"Our plan costs less than rebuilding repeated times after storms," said Ball. "We are going to look at innovative funding models. There are going to be some things where we are gonna be able to have multi-year deals, but we are going to do what needs to be done within the fiscal constraints just like any other project."

"There's some really tough calls that have to be made in terms of where the money is going to come from, and that's a huge concern for us," said Park Ridge Trading Co. owner Julia Sanger.

Ball says his plan shows urgency while prioritizing public safety to create a long term solution, but business owners are still worried about the short term as the town continues to struggle with tourism one year after the flood.

"It could be that in 40 years, this is a great solution, but the problem is that most of us aren’t going to be here in 40 years so what do we do in the meantime?" said Sanger.

"I'm not concerned about the survival of the Phoenix, I'm concerned about the survival of and livelihoods of my employees, my family, my wife, my children," said Hemmis.

Hemmis and other business owners impacted by the removal want the county to help them with a seamless transition into other locations on Main Street.

"Our only goal is to stay in business in Ellicott City on Main Street," said Hemmis.

Once the county acquires these buildings, they will begin the Section 106 process with the goal of salvaging as much of the buildings’ historic character as possible. Within the next year the county will begin construction on the Quaker Mill mitigation pond, design the Maryland Avenue culverts, acquire West End properties, finish design of the Emory and Church Street drainage improvements, put out an RFP for the North Tunnel, and more. A national team of experts from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will also conduct an independent review of the plan.

Ball said best-case scenario, the plan will be completed in five years.