Ellicott City Flooding 'You Get Used to it'

A few inches of rain in the basement isn't all that bad, according to some Main Street merchants.

The best present Mark Hemmis ever got? 

“My wife got me chest waders for Christmas.”

The chest-high, waterproof suit with built-in boots was put to use Thursday after heavy rains Wednesday night caused Patapsco and Tiber Rivers to swell, flooding his business, Phoenix Emporium, and others along Main Street in Ellicott City’s Historic District.

Hemmis seemed pleased that, after repairing an old pipe on his property, the Phoenix basement “only” got 18 inches. The Phoenix Emporium is a restaurant and bar.

He lost some food, a little beer and, he said, some paper goods.

Wednesday night’s rain and the ensuing flooding led the State Highway Administration to close off part of Frederick Road and Main Street Thursday morning. Water from the Patapsco splashed up against the Main Street Bridge during the morning commute, and water pooled up on Frederick Road at the Baltimore County line.  

A National Weather Service flood warning remained in effect for “extreme south central Howard County,” but Main Street and much of Frederick Road were cleared and re-opened just after 1 p.m. 

Down the street from Hemmis, Sherry Fackler-Berkowitz and her husband Len Berkowitz, were cleaning up a mess in the basement of their business, Great Panes, which offers decorative glass designs.

Like Hemmis, they seemed unfazed by the four inches of water in their basement. 

“You get used to it,” Berkowitz said. During Tropical Storm Lee, they had more than four feet of water in the basement, where they keep more than 2,000 paper copies of designs going back 30 years.

The two said that they, too, had done some remediation after Tropical Storm Lee, paid for by a settlement with FEMA. They had the walls on the north and south side of the river re-pointed inside and out. 

“But the county has not maintained the wall on the park side,” Berkowitz said, and that, he believed, was the source of Thursday’s leak. 

County spokesperson Mark Miller said that County Executive Ken Ulman had heard from Historic District stakeholders who had experienced flooding during Lee at his first budget hearing.

“The County Executive said then that he had heard their case … and that he was seriously exploring options,” Miller said Thursday afternoon. 

“If there is an opportunity to address some of these issues in a thorough and comprehensive and effective way, he will do that,” Miller said. “He’s not going to go in and do something piecemeal. This may take a little time to think of a good, thorough comprehensive plan that is not just a band-aid.”

For their part, the Berkowitz’s have a good sump pump and a couple of brooms and the water was almost gone from their basement by 2 p.m. Hemmis said he was just waiting for the water to recede so that he could re-light the pilot on his hot water heater and open for business.

“At least,” he said of the water in his basement, “It’s not six feet.” 

Did your business experience flooding Thursday? Tell us in the comments.

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