Preser­va­tion­ist group’s re­port eyes flood plan

The Star Democrat - - FROM THE WIRE - By HOWARD R. FLETCHER Cap­i­tal News Ser­vice

ELLICOTT CITY — In a move to slow down Howard County’s flood mit­i­ga­tion plan, which would de­mol­ish 10 build­ings in his­toric Ellicott City, a preser­va­tion group on Wed­nes­day re­leased a re­port that ques­tions county of­fi­cials’ de­ci­sion-mak­ing method­ol­ogy.

The his­toric ad­vo­cacy group Preser­va­tion Mary­land con­tracted with an en­gi­neer­ing firm, Simp­son Gumpertz & Heger Inc., to re­view sev­eral re­ports gen­er­ated by Howard County, in­clud­ing one on hy­drol­ogy and hy­draulics by en­gi­neer­ing firm McCormick Tay­lor, and the county’s re­cently re­leased five-year flood re­duc­tion plan.

“We be­lieve that flood­mit­i­ga­tion strate­gies which ad­dress both life safety con­cerns and preser­va­tion of the his­toric char­ac­ter of Ellicott City have not been fully vet­ted by Howard County,” Simp­son Gumpertz & Heger stated in their re­port’s ex­ec­u­tive sum­mary.

His­toric preser­va­tion­ists and other op­po­nents of the county’s pro­posal have been crit­i­cal of county lead­ers’ lack of in­ves­ti­ga­tion into un­der­ground tun­nel bor­ing as a pos­si­ble rem­edy to a river of wa­ter bar­rel­ing down Main Street dur­ing flash floods.

A tun­nel would di­vert the wa­ter, from the Tiber and other runoff, un­der Main Street through a large, drilled pipe­line and run it be­low the res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial ar­eas into the Pat­ap­sco, ac­cord­ing to Preser­va­tion Mary­land and other sup­port­ers of this al­ter­na­tive.

“When you’re talk­ing about de­mol­ish­ing a good chunk of the His­toric District and per­haps the liveli­hood and fu­ture of that com­mu­nity, it seems to me, and ap­par­ently this en­gi­neer­ing firm (Simp­son Gumpertz & Heger), that it is only pru­dent to look at (the tun­nel) op­tion,” said Nicholas Red­ding, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Preser­va­tion Mary­land in a tele­phone in­ter­view with Cap­i­tal News Ser­vice on Wed­nes­day.

County of­fi­cials have stated that the ex­pe­ri­ence of two lethal floods in a span of 22 months has raised their sense of ur­gency and ac­cel­er­ated their ac­tion plan.

“We based our plan on the years of data and sci­en­tific anal­y­sis com­piled by McCormick Tay­lor, a firm which has had sig­nif­i­cant, long-term ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing in the Ellicott City wa­ter­shed,” said Howard County Ex­ec­u­tive Al­lan Kit­tle­man.

“An in­de­pen­dent and un­so­licited re­view of this plan (in­clud­ing re­mov­ing the 10 build­ings) by KCI Tech­nolo­gies, a well-re­spected en­gi­neer­ing firm, con­curred with our plan. The time for study­ing is over. We must now im­ple­ment a plan that pro­tects lives.”

The county’s pro­posal in­cludes stormwa­ter mit­i­ga­tion above the His­toric District to re­duce the amount of wa­ter that flows down, and the re­moval of 10 build­ings that sit on or close to the Tiber to widen the chan­nel as it flows to the Pat­ap­sco River.

Flood wa­ter ve­loc­ity would be re­duced from 11.1 feet per sec­ond and greater, which hap­pened dur­ing a July 30, 2016, flood, to ap­prox­i­mately 4.5 feet per sec­ond. The wa­ter’s depth will de­crease from over 8 feet to 2-6 feet, ac­cord­ing to num­bers in the county’s plan.

“The Na­tional Weather Ser vice has pointed out to us that this type of event could hap­pen more fre­quently,” said Philip Nichols, as­sis­tant chief ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fi­cer of Howard County in an in­ter­view with Cap­i­tal News Ser vice in Septem­ber. “There was a need to pri­or­i­tize pub­lic safety, first and fore­most.”

An­other con­tribut­ing fac­tor to the choice of the gov­ern­ment’s plan was that af­ter a May 2018 flood, prop­erty own­ers ap­proached the county to ac­quire their build­ings, Nichols said.

“Re­liev­ing prop­erty own­ers of the li­a­bil­ity and costs as­so­ci­ated with this (flood dam­age), as we’ve said from the be­gin­ning, we’re fully sup­port­ive of that,” said Red­ding. “It’s what Howard County then does with those struc­tures that is of great con­cern.”

Preser­va­tion Mary­land’s hopes that the Simp­son Gumpertz & Heger re­port and a Novem­ber turnover of at least one seat in the County Coun­cil will help slow a process that they have crit­i­cized since the county’s flood mit­i­ga­tion plan was pro­posed in Au­gust.

“It is our ex­pec­ta­tion that this re­port will sig­nif­i­cantly change the con­ver­sa­tion mov­ing for­ward,” said Red­ding. “We look for­ward to work­ing with Howard County and a new coun­cil to fully ex­plore al­ter­na­tives to the de­mo­li­tion that is be­ing con­sid­ered.”

County of­fi­cials have stated that the ex­pe­ri­ence of two lethal floods in a span of 22 months has raised their sense of ur­gency and ac­cel­er­ated their ac­tion plan.

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