Update: September 17 - Since last blogging the County has presented more information at new meetings and I believe they have answered more questions, provided more data and been convincing that the full County EC Flood Mitigation Plan should be implemented. See testimony I gave at the the link below for an update, and click on Council Bill 62 (C), (x) Lisa Markovitz (third time name appears down the list), on the chart of available testimonies below the video.
August 30 blog:
Many Howard County residents have expressed the desire for more information in response to the County public announcement that an Ellicott City Flood Mitigation plan was about to be presented to County authorities for approval. The County plan includes proposed removal of:
10 buildings on the southside of Main Street from Caplan’s down to and including the Phoenix;
2 buildings, including La Palapa, and the grey building West of Ellicott Mills Brewing, to allow for an expansion to the Ellicott Mills Drive culvert from Lots D and E; and
7 residences on the West end.
I have spent a lot of time in the last week analyzing available studies, the County plan, its data, noting what data it is missing, and discussing many concerns on social media. I attempted to answer a lot of questions I have seen, herein, but want to say up front, that I believe the biggest threat to being able to increase safety from flooding in downtown Ellicott City, is delay. We need projects to start immediately. The most contentious part of the County’s plan is the removal of the 10 commercial buildings. Having that included in a total package plan, which includes many projects on which there is widespread agreement, could delay work starting.
I propose the County plan that is the subject of legislation, this month, before the County Council, should separate all of the proposed mitigation efforts from the demolition of the 10 commercial buildings on lower Main Street. This would allow those projects not related to that area of demolition to get started without delay, and get funded separately, in case there aren’t enough Council votes to pass the funding Bill on the projects.
From what I have heard, there is near consensus that it is worth the loss of the 2 mid-Main Street buildings to connect Lots D and E to the Ellicott Mills Drive culvert, especially since that road is already dug up and being repaired. The West end residence purchases should proceed, as water retention plans uphill will greatly reduce flooding waters of the high velocity type, which would considerably improve safety.
The purchase of the 10 commercial buildings should also proceed; however, demolition could be delayed while the other projects start. The County should collect missing data, noted herein, and model possible combinations of alternative plans to save as many of the historic structures as possible. If it is truly determined, with questions answered on missing data, that this is still the only safe way to go, then at least the public will have more answers and data and feel more confident in that decision.
As for the studies and County plan, I have made observations that I will present in a question format.
1. Does the County plan address alternatives to demolition of the 10 commercial buildings like putting in a tunnel under Main Street, or preserving portions of the buildings?
Yes. The County Plan has taken alternative proposals from the Hydrology/Hydraulic study of 2016, referred to as the H&H, or McCormick Study, and modeled how much flood water would be mitigated under three scenarios. The three separate alternatives to demolition presented are: putting in a culvert down the middle of Main Street, retaining the buildings with a 10-foot open space on the first floor, and retaining the façade of the buildings only. In the County plan the affect on flooding of each of these alternatives are compared to demolishing the buildings and putting in a storm water management park type facility on lower Main Street, with public input promised on those details. The demolition plan is claimed to decrease flood waters, in all areas, the most.
2. Didn’t the tunnel option in the H&H study remove all water from Main Street? Why isn’t that being considered?
The tunnels option in the H&H Study has been estimated to cost anywhere from $70 million to $145 million and take a year or more to do. These are cost and time estimates from community members contacting contractors, and figures are not specifically listed in the County plan. This model in the H&H Study showed no water on Main Street from a 100-year storm, but still had significant water heights in other areas. The County plan modeling of one tunnel did not mitigate flood waters below 4 feet, only past the Portalli’s building near the end of Main by the Patapsco.
There is concern that taking a very long time to implement remediation projects will eliminate all viable business there, and increase the chance of further flood damage in the meantime. The H&H study was done after the 2016 flood, but prior to the 2018 flood, so it was done under the notion that this kind of flood happens more rarely, and that we had much more time for remediation than is clearly realized now.
3. If the County plan, including demolition, results in the greatest flood mitigation, why do people want to preserve buildings instead of choosing the safest alternative?
People do not believe that this is the safest alternative. It would help to understand the data upon which this claim is based by giving more information to the public. For instance, it is stated that the demolition model decreases the speed of flood waters on Main Street by 60%. The amount of velocity decrease in each alternative plan is not noted. Also, the County plan Diagram 7 on page 11, shows the totality of the County mitigation efforts, as an “after”, compared to the “before” mapping of current conditions. A cumulative model of combinable alternatives compared to demolition plans, should also be shown.
4. The County plan seems to indicate that we cannot afford to do the alternative to demolition plans or that they would take too long. It also states alternative plans do not mitigate as much flooding. If a cumulative effect of alternatives shows a close or better mitigation amount, are they still too time-consuming or expensive to do?
The expense, noted above, of boring tunnels, $70 million to $145 million, is certainly very costly. We do not know the individual amounts of the costs of all the County projects, as they are totaled in the plan as costing near $50 million. Being able to do this work timely, creates a difficult budget constraint. Other constraints have been noted. We do not have an Army Corps of Engineers review of the County Plan, but the Corps did address some alternatives that ended up modeled in the County plan. The Corps pointed out difficulties with the notion of lifting the buildings, such as close adjacency of buildings, and challenges to provide ADA compliance due to proximity to the road. Other concerns include the fact that the water moving under the buildings is full of debris, which would impact the structural supports. The time it would take to complete these types of alternatives is not specifically stated, but concerns include how long any commercial viability could remain given a long-term closure. The vibrancy and eclectic lovely nature of our downtown Main Street is partly due to its businesses there, another important criteria to try to preserve.
5. How valid is the concern that the loss of these buildings is not worth the level of mitigation, because four feet of water is still possible on Main Street, in the County plan?
If you look at the Diagrams on page 11 of the County plan you can see a before and after shot of all the County’s plans and how much water is decreased in each area. The area of the buildings proposed to be demolished still has 4-6 feet of water possible, and this is where the storm water management park is planned. On the other side of Main Street, further down East across from that site, is also indicated at this volume level (4-6 feet of water). The area without the planned mitigation was at 8 feet. So, it is still significant water reduction. Remember though, that this diagram of the “after” includes all the County’s proposed remedies together. We do not know how much the mitigation of just the demolition and park creation are adding to the total, versus uphill projects and culvert expansion. Providing this information would also help the public understand the measurements.
6. What is The Alexander Plan? Did developers influence the County Plan with their proposed plan?
A developer did submit a plan, unbidden by the County, called the Alexander plan. It differs significantly from the County’s plan. The Alexander plan doesn’t show the storm water management park or green space. New buildings depicted on it, are not planned. Different demolition proposals are made. The County has no dam construction plans, or the traffic rerouting from that plan. Many of the proposed buildings to be demolished are individually owned. County Executive Kittleman said at the press announcement that many plans and proposals were submitted to be considered and the County plan is not based on any of them. I would be the first one to raise concerns about any developer benefits in this situation. I was a “taking no developer money” candidate, before that was cool. A storm water park is proposed for public use in the space where the buildings are proposed to be demolished, not waterview homes. I don’t see the County plan as developer driven.
7. Didn’t overdevelopment cause this problem? Why shouldn’t they pay, or have newer homes removed instead of old ones? How are they being held accountable?
Development contributed to flooding in this area. I believe that, many do. There is a one year moratorium on permit granting for development at this time. I wish the County mitigation plan had extended that. The County cannot legally charge developers for this flood mitigation directly. We should all work hard to convince our State legislators to allow our County Council to increase developer fees, then work on the Council to do that.
If the County were to take new homes by eminent domain (like undoing development) there would be immediate lawsuits and they would win. This would do nothing except delay needed projects and waste money. The County is in communication with other sites to assess locations of more possible flood mitigation efforts.
8. What is this park going to be? Doesn’t losing the buildings endanger our historic designation?
The park proposed, enabled by the demolition plan, could be an open space historic park. Preserving the history of this town could be highlighted with a replicated Mill and tie into the B&O history there also. Efforts are under way to have input along these lines with the installation of the Historic Preservation Committee on this project. Public meetings will be held on those topics as well. I don’t believe we would be in danger of losing any designation. We may even end up having more historical honoring in the area.
9. So, how do we get the proper information and what should be done?
We need to get the County proposed projects separated in the process of implementation authorization. The projects up the hill, to the West, and the culvert expansion should move forward immediately. The purchase of the 10 buildings should also move forward to ensure their safety. The procedures to enable those actions should be altered to accommodate the delay of demolition of the 10 commercial buildings and the ability to proceed with the other plans. It is possible that opposition, even potential litigation, could delay implementation regarding demolitions. Having everything together, procedurally, in the process and legislation, could unnecessarily delay the projects that few have a problem starting.
While those projects are moving forward, the public should be given the data on the velocity reduction on each of the alternatives to demolition plans, and a model should be done of a combination of boring tunnel(s) under Main and other plans in total. We should be given more information on how the models were completed, and add 2018 flood data. Also, nearby sites for further retention projects should be pursued to see if they can add to mitigation results helping to retain any buildings.
A plan should be modeled that includes removing only the buildings that sit over the Tiber, and retaining others, or relocating facades or historic portions in creation of the water retention park area, and possibly not removing as many buildings. Modeling more alternatives for the public to view can only help with providing confidence in the final chosen course of action. All of this information could likely be publicized in a relatively short amount of time to proceed timely.
In conclusion, we cannot leave out mitigation of the Patapsco overflowing. We cannot solely address Tiber uphill runoff. If we are to do such extensive projects, at great expense, changing the landscape and taking time, thus hurting the viability of commercial and residential usage, we must address all of the flood problems in this endeavor. I could not embrace a plan that does not mitigate the most flood water volume and velocity and produce the maximum amount of safety. To save the buildings, we must find alternatives that are viable from a timetable perspective and feasible economically for their degree of safety provision. The time factor is not just for the viability of economies, but also to get things done before more damage occurs from more floods.
If provided data and more modeling show the best mitigation includes these demolitions we have to accept that and concentrate on honoring our historic history in the new park.
Upcoming meetings/hearings on the topic.
Historic Preservation Commission – needs to sign off on demolition applications – meeting on Tuesday, September 6th at 7pm at George Howard Building.
Ellicott City Watershed Master Plan – Sept. 12 6:30 Banneker room, George Howard Bldg, how is plan affected by 2018 flood and how it influenced the current County plan. Status of Master Plan:
Public Hearing on Council Legislation for September, Monday Sept. 17th - 6pm, George Howard Building, legislation on this matter below:
Transfer of Appropriation Ordinance 1 -2018 – A piece of legislation that moves funds from one set of plans to another. $15,579.00 to EC flood mitigation plan, $1,000,000 to Valley Mede/Chatham flood mitigation.
Council Bill 61-2018 – Amending the budget, and making emergency appropriations for the implementation of the County EC flood mitigation plan. $2,000,000 from General fund contingency reserve.
UPDATE - To see some more information the County has provided since the date of this blog, regarding the buildings at lower Main, specifically, more information on why tunnel boring was not recommended, and further information on funding and timing, go to www.HowardCountyMD.gov/ECMP
Army Corps of Engineers Report 2/18
2016 Ellicott City Hydrology/Hydraulic Study prepared June 2017
2018 County Ellicott City Flood Mitigation Plan