Photo: Preservation Maryland/ Shannon Baranoski

County Buys 9 Buildings in $100M Ellicott City Flood Plan

Eleven months after launching its plan to prevent more catastrophic flooding in historic Ellicott City, Maryland, Howard County has bought nearly all of the buildings it plans to demolish or modify.

The “Ellicott City Safe and Sound Plan” is estimated to cost more than $100 million. Howard County Executive Calvin Ball gave an update on Monday, saying the county now owns nine of the ten properties on lower Main Street it targeted in the flood mitigation plan. Four of the ten would be demolished, and from the other six, portions will be removed that currently sit over the stream channel.

Old Ellicott City experienced deadly flash floods during “1,000-year storms” in July 2016 and again in May 2018. The area lies close to the Tiber and Hudson streams off the Patapsco River, making the historic district especially vulnerable. Many businesses in the popular Main Street area were destroyed.

Ball says of those forced to close, eight businesses have reopened since last December, and 18 new businesses have opened.

“Every day we are working with Ellicott City residents, businesses, and organizations to recover, protect, and build a resilient future for this historic town. The 26 businesses that have opened or re-opened since last December are a testament to our continued partnership to make the town more resilient than ever,” says Ball. 

The Safe and Sound Plan includes storm drain, pond, culvert, and tunnel projects that Howard County says will reduce floodwaters on Main Street ” to less than a foot in a 100-year storm and approximately three feet in a storm the scale of the July 2016 flood.”

The 2016 flood caused two deaths, and the 2018 flood claimed the life of a National Guardsman. Howard County also says it’s taking steps to be “better prepared” when it comes to public safety in future storms. The emergency alert alarms are now four times as loud in the area. The National Weather Service has made a more specific designation for flash flood warnings in “Historic Ellicott City,” instead of the more general Ellicott City. On lower Main Street, where there are limited escape routes from flooding, the county has been working on public access points from private property.

The county has also prioritized clearing debris out of the waterways, saying it has removed nearly ten tons of debris in 2019.

Storm drain improvements are estimated to be done by the end of the year, and two pond projects will get underway in 2020. Next, the buildings set for demolition and renovation will go through an assessment of the historical impacts, with work expected to begin in 2021. To find out more about the Ellicott City Safe and Sound Plan, click here.

-Meg Walburn Viviano