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Continuous rain haunts Ellicott City businesses less than 2 months after flood

Posted at 6:34 PM, Jul 23, 2018

Days of continuous rain and flood warnings has Ellicott City business owners on edge. 

"The sound of pouring rain and the sound of rushing water is very much a PTSD trigger," Park Ridge Trading Company owner Julia Sanger said. "It’s been a lot of sleepless nights, a lot of anxiety, a lot of watching the radar." 

It's the first extended period of rain since the devastating flood at the end of May. Dozens of businesses have opened back up, but most of lower Main Street remains empty. Sanger is one of just a handful working to rebuild int he midst of even more rain.

"We’ve been down here half a dozen times emptying dehumidifiers and making sure the fans are running  and just trying to generally keep the level of moisture in the building down

The question on her mind: what is she rebuilding to? How can this flooding be prevented in the future? 

"I think it’s absolutely crucial that the county take a step back and take a pause and try to figure out what the best solution is going to be here," Sanger said. 

County Councilman Jon Weinstein is working on that. He introduced a bill to stop development in the Tiber Branch watershed for one year, to study the flooding and look at changes to policies and regulations. 

"What we need to do over the next year is to identify those changes on what we allow to be built in the watershed, what new design requirements there are, what new storm water and flood mitigation requirements there are," Weinstein said. "So that if changes are needed, and I believe they are, that we have the time to identify those changes put them into effect and make sure they have the impact we expect."

Since 2016, the county has made repairs and built storm walls, and has lots of other projects in the works. A process that will take years to fully complete, Weinstein says this bill gives them the time to keep moving forward without more construction.

"Right now in effect, it would stop between 250 and 450 units from being built. That could be apartments, town homes and single-family homes," Weinstein said. 

A study after the 2016 flood shows the impact of development on flooding. For a 100-year flood, if the entire watershed was not developed at all except for Main St (ie. tearing down all current buildings), there would be an average 23% decrease in water. It's important to note that the 2016 and 2018 floods were both 1,000-year floods.

The continuous rain is ominous on many levels. One week marks 2 years since the 2016 flood, killing two people and forcing the town to rebuild. Tuesday is the 150th anniversary of the Great Flood of Maryland, the worst flood in Ellicott City's history. 21 feet of rushing water destroyed 32 buildings and killed over 40 people. 

For Sanger, they are reminders that it's happened around this time before. This time, she's waterproofed what she can. 

"We installed various types of waterproof sheeting and added a sump pump and also done some waterproofing applications directly to the rock to try to keep the water at least flowing where it should be flowing," Sanger said. 

Now, she and the rest of the time just hope that history doesn't repeat itself. 

"We don’t have anything left to lose but we certainly don’t need to take a huge step back from the progress that we’ve made so far," Sanger said. 

The Howard County Council is holding another public hearing Monday night to hear from about 20 more people who didn't have time to testify about the development bill last week. Then, the council will vote on it on Friday and Weinstein expects to have support from his colleagues.