Here are excerpts from Mayor John Tecklenburg’s State of the City address on Jan. 23, 2018, that focused on flooding:
First, flooding and drainage.
For more than 300 years, the people of Charleston have lived with the threat of hurricanes, high tides and flooding. But, now, with rising seas, a history of ill advised development in some areas, and three major flood events in three years, we simply must make flooding and drainage
our city’s top long-range priority. And in order to do that, we have to closely examine what we’re doing today, what we plan to do tomorrow, and how we’re going to pay for it.
Last year, our city spent more than $32 million on drainage improvements. We worked with federal and state officials to secure FEMA funds to buy out many of the homes hit hardest by
the historic floods in West Ashley. We hired a leading engineering firm to help us find solutions for the Church Creek Drainage Basin. We approved plans for a new Low Battery Sea Wall–
and increased funding for its construction by almost 25 percent.
We hired a new Chief Resiliency Officer, Mark Wilbert, to make flooding and drainage a top concern in everything we do, and we brought together our department and division heads to ensure that all parts of city government are working together with Laura Cabiness and her fine
Public Services team to implement our long-term sea-rise and drainage plans.
But that’s just the beginning. This year, we will be moving even more quickly.
In order to increase ditch maintenance, check valve installation, and other immediate improvements, in 2018 we will increase available stormwater fee resources by 25 percent. To ensure we’re making responsible decisions about future development, we will hire our city’s
first, full time floodplain manager, and create rigorous new stormwater standards for all areas of the city, including highly -impacted areas like the Church Creek Drainage Basin.
In our historic areas, we will direct our design review professionals to create clear new standards that protect historic architecture while allowing our citizens to raise their homes to current FEMA recommended levels.
To make sure our major infrastructure is ready for the challenges of both today and tomorrow, we will continue to move forward aggressively with hundreds of millions of dollars in large -scale drainage projects that are already underway or in development on the peninsula, West Ashley, and James and Johns Islands. To protect our citizens from both hurricanes and increasing problems with tidal flooding, we will break ground on the new Low Battery Sea Wall, and construct it in a way that allows for
several feet of additional protection during extreme weather events.
To ensure our plans are transparent and clear to our citizens, we will update our rising sea and drainage plan with even more detailed information, and establish a new website to act as a clearing house for news about these critical issues.
And to help pay for improvements now and in the future, we will hire a full-time grant writer with a special focus on drainage, and we will leverage the talents and expertise of our residents by bringing together citizen-led groups to help us identify and secure potential funding sources for these and other projects.
But even with all this, there will be much to do in the years ahead
–which brings me to what may be the single most important long-
term funding initiative for flooding we will undertake
In 2018, six million tourists are expected to visit our city, and like the 140,000 of us who are fortunate enough to call Charleston home, they too have a large stake in the future of this beautiful and historic community. But under current state law, we simply don’t have the
authority or the flexibility to ask our six million visitors to contribute in a significant way to keep Charleston safe from flooding and extreme weather in the years ahead.
That is why this year we are asking the state legislature to give us the freedom we need to move existing tourism dollars from accommodations and hospitality fees into flooding and drainage.
And it is why we are asking you, our citizens, to help us ensure that our voices are heard in Columbia on this critical issue.
Together, we can and will protect our citizens from rising seas, extreme weather and flooding.
And that goal must remain our city’s top long-range priority until the job is done.