Lit­tle fan­fare, lots of cheer as El­li­cott City re­opens Main St.

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Pamela Wood

With a pur­pose­ful lack of fan­fare, Howard County officials re­opened El­li­cott City’s Main Street late Thurs­day af­ter­noon, 21⁄ months af­ter the dev­as­tat­ing flash flood that killed two peo­ple and caused ex­ten­sive dam­age in the his­toric mill town.

The traf­fic sig­nals at Main Street and Old Columbia Pike were switched from steady blink­ing red to reg­u­lar cy­cles at 5 p.m. As the first ve­hi­cles turned onto Main Street, driv­ers honked their horns in cel­e­bra­tion.

At her tem­po­rary shop, Main Street Ris­ing, owner Donna Sanger was happy to see cars and peo­ple pass­ing by out­side.

“I can’t tell you how weird it’s been,” Sanger said of Main Street’s long clo­sure. “To see the traf­fic and to see peo­ple walk­ing down the street is heart­warm­ing.”

Among her first cus­tomers were Janet and Mark Ford, res­i­dents of nearby Col­lege Av­enue who couldn’t wait for Main Street to re­open.

“I was bug­ging him: ‘We gotta go, We gotta go,’” Janet Ford said. “I want it to suc­ceed so much. I don’t want to see the his­tory go away.”

The Fords have been check­ing in on Main Street fre­quently since the flood, see­ing which fa­vorite shops and restau­rants were re­open­ing. On Thurs­day, they stocked up on fla­vored vine­gars — fig for her, cherry for him — at Main Street Ris­ing.

Main Street’s re­open­ing at­tracted a steady stream of cars and pedes­tri­ans — many peo­ple walked along the side­walks, peer­ing into build­ings. Yet even as the his­toric district opened, plenty of work re­mains for res­i­dents and busi­ness own­ers try­ing to re­cover from a storm that caused an es­ti­mated $23 mil­lion in dam­age.

A to­tal of 61⁄ inches of rain fell in the space of two hours on the evening of Satur­day, July 30, swelling the Tiber and Hud­son trib­u­taries of the Pat­ap­sco River and trig­ger­ing floods cours­ing down the street as peo­ple dined and shopped.

Jes­sica Wat­sula, 35, of Le­banon, Pa., and Joseph An­thony Blevins, 38, of Wind­sor Mill were swept away in the flood­wa­ters. Their bod­ies were later found in the Pat­ap­sco.

Flood­wa­ters smashed through glass win­dows and doors, car­ry­ing mer­chan­dise away, goug­ing sink­holes, toss­ing cars, and de­posit­ing mud and sed­i­ment all over the town.

Many build­ings re­main closed with win­dows boarded up. The street and side­walks are a patch­work of con­crete and as­phalt as util­ity work con­tin­ues.

Main Street Ris­ing was one of few busi­nesses along the lower stretch of Main Street that re­opened Thurs­day. Sanger owns the build­ing next door, where she and daugh­ter Ju­lia opened Park Ridge Trad­ing in May sell­ing spe­cialty foods and gifts.

While their build­ing is un­der­go­ing re­pairs, the Sangers will op­er­ate a tem­po­rary shop through the hol­i­days. For the past week, they scram­bled to get fix­tures in place and stock prod­ucts to sell. Sanger hopes other mer­chants will fol­low suit. “Some­one has to go first,” she said. County officials at­tempted to keep the road re­open­ing low-key, with no cer­e­monies or speeches. County Ex­ec­u­tive Al­lan H. Kit­tle­man an­nounced at a news con­fer­ence Wed­nes­day the street would re­open but did not at­tend Thurs­day.

Kit­tle­man and other officials is­sued a Donna Sanger has opened a tem­po­rary shop, Main Street Ris­ing, which sells spe­cialty gifts and foods while her per­ma­nent busi­ness un­der­goes re­pairs next door. “To see the traf­fic and to see peo­ple walk­ing down the street is heart­warm­ing,” she says. state­ment urg­ing peo­ple to pa­tron­ize the re­opened busi­nesses while re­spect­ing the work that re­mains to be done.

“The best way to show your sup­port is to pa­tron­ize those busi­nesses that have al­ready opened their doors,” said a joint state­ment from Kit­tle­man, Howard County Coun­cil­man Jon We­in­stein, Del. Robert Flana­gan and state Sen. Gail Bates.

“We will re­serve cel­e­brat­ing our re­silience for a time later this year when we can be joined by oth­ers who are still re­cov­er­ing,” they wrote.

In re­cent weeks, the county grad­u­ally re­opened parts of Main Street and more busi­nesses have opened their doors. The bridge over the Pat­ap­sco re­opened to traf­fic in mid-Septem­ber, but cars com­ing over from Bal­ti­more County were im­me­di­ately di­verted off Main Street.

We­in­stein, a Demo­crat who rep­re­sents the area, said he hoped there even­tu­ally would be a big­ger cause for cel­e­bra­tion when more busi­nesses are up and run­ning. Some stores are mov­ing to new lo­ca­tions, and a few don’t plan to re­turn, he said.

Still, We­in­stein noted that Satur­day farm­ers’ mar­kets still are be­ing held and hol­i­day events, in­clud­ing a tree-light­ing and “mid­night mad­ness” shop­ping event, are in the works.

“We want peo­ple to come. We are open for busi­ness again,” We­in­stein said. “We’re work­ing hard to get El­li­cott City back.”

Many have raised con­cerns that in­creas­ing de­vel­op­ment in the area — with more rooftops and paved sur­faces — could be mak­ing low-lying Main Street vul­ner­a­ble to flood­ing. We­in­stein pro­posed a ninemonth mora­to­rium on new de­vel­op­ment in the area, but the Howard County Council voted Wed­nes­day to ta­ble the bill un­til Novem­ber.

We­in­stein said he’s also con­sid­er­ing other rules for de­vel­op­ment in the area, such as re­quir­ing projects to con­trol greater amounts of rain­wa­ter and mak­ing it more dif­fi­cult for devel­op­ers to re­ceive waivers from those re­quire­ments.

On Thurs­day, though, con­cerns about pre­ven­tion of fu­ture flood­ing took a back seat to the cur­rent re­cov­ery.

Lisa Em­mer­ling was op­ti­mistic that traf­fic would help boost busi­ness at the An­tique Depot, where she sells items from three stalls. The store is just off Main Street on Mary­land Av­enue — out of sight for many vis­i­tors. The shop re­opened Sept. 2 af­ter re­pairs to the base­ment. “It’s been slow,” she said. She’s ea­ger for other shops to re­open — many oth­ers re­main boarded up — but she’s con­fi­dent Main Street will re­bound.

“We feel like we’re really com­ing back and we have faith,” Em­mer­ling said. “We’ve had three hur­ri­canes, two fires and a train de­rail­ment. But we keep com­ing back.”

Filiz McNa­mara, who lives nearby in Oella, was teach­ing an art class at a stu­dio on Main Street on the night of the flood­ing. She re­turned Thurs­day.

“It felt amaz­ing,” she said. “No bars, no fences.”


Cars, pedes­tri­ans and bi­cy­clists re­turn to El­li­cott City’s Main Street on Thurs­day evening, 21⁄ months af­ter a flood dev­as­tated the his­toric Howard County mill town.


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