This time, Ellicott City wants change

Main Street in Ellicott City was hit especially hard, with most businesses almost
completely gutted.
(Photo courtesy of Dave Markowitz)

With the second devastating flood in as many years, residents of Ellicott City are not just rebuilding, but advocating for more substantial change that could prevent future disasters.

Ellicott City was hit with more than eight inches of rain in three hours on May 27. The National Weather Service called it “1 in 1,000” — just like the torrential storm of August 2016. One man was killed in the flood last month. Two were killed in 2016.

This time, residents aren’t just working to rebuild, but are calling on the county to finally invest in flood prevention plans.

“The sentiment is people want change,” said Dave Markowitz, who has lived in his home about a half mile from Main Street for more than five years. “It seems like the consensus is there.”

Markowitz and his family were in Cumberland, Md., for a bluegrass festival during the storm. When they returned, they couldn’t reach their house because the roads were covered in debris and impassable. They stayed with family for a week until they could go back to their house on Saturday.

“Compared to people who lost everything for the second time in two years, we’re lucky,” he said. Their house is up on a small hill and survived the storm relatively unscathed, although they had lost power and running water for a time. Their driveway to New Cut Road had also been damaged.

Markowitz posted a video on
Facebook of the damage to his street — pieces of it are crumbling away and full sections have been washed out — which was shared nearly 1,000 times and viewed more than 100,000.

Sam Crystal, who grew up in Ellicott City, said his family’s home was undamaged, thanks to a heavy duty sump pump his parents installed a few years ago. But he remembers hearing the sirens during the storm as emergency responders were called in.

“Obviously, it’s pretty heartbreaking and devastating,” he said. “Having gone through this two years ago and seeing the city destroyed again is very demoralizing, especially in light of all the rebuilding.”

And that has people looking for a more permanent fix to the flooding.

“People are much more focused on getting the problem addressed this time around,” he said.

The bulk of the damage, like in 2016, was in the historic downtown area around Main Street. Businesses hit hard the first time in some cases now have it even worse.

“This time the flood has hit us much harder than the 2016 flood,” Great Panes, an art glass studio, said in a Facebook post. The business is owned by Len Berkowitz and Sherry Fankler-

“We are working on opening our business in a new location, while still remaining in Ellicott City.”

Follow-up posts have included updates and thanking volunteers who helped clear out the debris from the store.

“First glance of Discoveries damage today,” Sally Tennant, the owner of a small shop called Discoveries, wrote on Facebook. “So much is gone that it’s hard to even recognize it as Discoveries at all.”

Tennant also wrote that the walls and floors of her building are gone in parts.

“Maybe now the runoff problem created recently will finally receive the mitigation it takes to deal with this problem,” Tennant wrote in an earlier post.

Downtown property owner Kara Brook Brown echoed this hope, but more stridently, in a Facebook post from the night of the flooding. She took the county to task for pushing business and property owners to rebuild without investing in a plan for flood prevention.

She said she chose not to renovate because she had been told there would be flooding again until the county implemented the plan it already had. The devastation from the flooding was a confluence of factors, she said, but she blamed the county for not taking ownership of a problem it knew it had.

Instead, she wrote, “they handled a problem that required financial investment, grit and muscle and tough decision making with public relations campaigns.”

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