Widespread resolve to restore Main Street [Commentary] – By Allan Kittleman, Howard County Executive
Ellicott City was dealt a devastating blow nearly three weeks ago when six inches of rain fell in less than two hours, causing devastation worse than Agnes in 1972. The ensuing flash flood killed two, ripped apart buildings and displaced hundreds of residents and business owners.
I saw dramatic acts of heroism as ordinary citizens saved others from rushing waters. I saw several people, including many good friends of mine, forced to sift through what was left of their possessions, their homes, their stores, trying to make sense of it all.
Despite the enormity of the challenge, I never saw anyone quit. Instead, I saw a widespread determination that has been an inspiration to me, our community and our nation. All along Main Street, there’s a growing spirit that the area will come back better than ever. We are committed to making Ellicott City a national model of resiliency.
In the days since the storm hit, county and private repair crews have made great strides in shoring up the public and private infrastructure along Main Street. We have seen an outpouring of support through cash and food donations, volunteerism and quick actions from our state and federal partners. We’re already seeing progress and look forward to a community-driven recovery effort.
Along these lines, I have asked former county executive and state senator Jim Robey to serve as my special adviser for community recovery for the rebuilding of Ellicott City. This is a critical role that Jim is uniquely qualified to lead. As a lifelong Howard County resident, Jim knows the people who live and work here and his experience and contacts on the state and federal level will serve us well in coordinating the county’s state and federal assistance needs.
Jim’s first task is to form a team comprised of representatives from local organizations, businesses, residents and the faith-based community to give us direction on long-term rebuilding efforts. This group will look at flood remediation but will also weigh other long-discussed ideas such as removing parking from along Main Street (ironically, one of the reasons for the extensive damage during the flash flood) and placing utilities underground.
We’ve long known that Ellicott City is prone to flooding during major storms, many times in the past causing significant property damage, closing businesses and displacing residents. That’s why, just six months after I took office, I signed an executive order establishing a flood workgroup. I tasked it with addressing long-term flood mitigation efforts and worked with County Council Vice Chair Jon Weinstein to appoint 10 members. The group produced a report in December 2015 that outlined possible initiatives to reduce flooding, offered infrastructure improvements and other steps. We also included $4.3 million over the last two fiscal years in the capital budget for an initial phase of flood mitigation projects in the historic district. As we look at long-term recovery and potential federal and state funding for mitigation, the efforts of the workgroup and our ongoing projects give us a strong foundation from which to work.
We know we have to make significant improvements to the area. We also know that it may take some time to make sure that we do it right. While we may have a long road ahead of us, we will rebuild Ellicott City with community input in a way that is not only respectful of the past but has an eye to our future. I have been inspired by the way our community has come together in this time of crisis. I know that we will walk together every step of the way and very soon, we will all again be walking down a vibrant Main Street, even better than the one we knew before.