In Maryland, There’s a Town That Simply Will Not Drown

elliott city, md may 27two vehicles in  in historic ellicott city as flood waters raged through its streets following torrential thunderstorms in elliott city md on may 27, 2018photo by katherine freythe washington post KATHERINE FREYGETTY IMAGES

By; Charles P Pierce/

Being our semi-regular weekly survey of what’s goin’ down in the several states where, as we know, the real work of governmentin’ goes on and where yonder stands your orphan with his gun.

It’s pretty much all-COVID, all-Crazy-People out there in the states, but let’s start in Maryland, where the Baltimore Sun brings us a genuinely epic saga of the town that wouldn’t drown. Ellicott City was founded in 1772, four years after the area had been struck by a massive flood. Since then, there have been 30 serious flooding events in Ellicott City, including two very bad ones in the past decade. Water is a rather constant presence in the town.

Nestled between the Hudson, Tiber and New Cut branches of the Patapsco River, Ellicott City sits in a valley of granite with walls that funnel the branches’ waters through the community to merge with the Patapsco. On a quiet day, it would be hard to tell that water flows under and around the mix of specialty stores, restaurants, galleries and antique shops along Main Street. Glimpses of yellow signs featuring a figure running to higher ground are the first clue. The 10 vacant buildings at the bottom of Main Street — gutted by deadly floods in 2016 and 2018 — solidify water’s dangerous presence in the historic district.

It looks like Maryland is preparing to do something about Ellicott City’s regularly scheduled appearance as a tributary.

A groundbreaking ceremony attended by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Howard County Executive Calvin Ball earlier this month marked the start of the multi-phased Ellicott City Safe and Sound flood mitigation plan. Estimated to cost between $113 million to $140 million, the plan includes the creation of several dry ponds, the installation of a milelong underground tunnel and the demolition of four Main Street buildings to provide space for the creation of a new culvert.

It’s going to be Infrastructure Week in Ellicott City for quite some time.

The state has committed more than $20 million to Howard County to assist in flood mitigation and resilience efforts, including $2.4 million for the creation of the 13-acre-foot H7 pond, which began Aug. 16 at the Route 40/Route 29 interchange. Designed to hold water and then release it slowly once the danger has passed, five dry flood ponds, ranging in size from the 10-acre-foot Quaker Mill pond off Rogers Avenue to the 70-acre-foot T1 pond on the Tiber tributary, are included in the plan. Each acre-foot is approximately 326,000 gallons of water…

The north tunnel, which Ball calls the “single most impactful project in our Safe and Sound plan,” will be buried 60 feet to 80 feet down, starting at the 8800 block of Frederick Road and running parallel to Main Street for 5,000 feet to exit at the Patapsco River. Ranging between 12 feet and 15 feet in diameter, the tunnel will help maintain the Hudson’s water levels by splintering the water flow during heavy rains to prevent the branch from flowing over its banks.