Who in Charleston deserves to suffer from flooding crisis?
The Post and Courier article “Residents asking feds to investigate Charleston for failure to protect against flood risks” (July 24, 2018) was shared hundreds of times on social media, covered by WCSC-TV, S.C. Public Radio, and prompted S.C. State Representative Wendell Gilliard to ask FEMA to intervene and help residents in need.
Curiously, the city attacked the messengers, denied blame, and trivialized the real issue in interviews included in the scathing Post and Courier editorial, “Fight against Charleston flooding goes nuclear (July 25, 2018) and on WCSC-TV, tactics that only serve to prolong the crisis facing Charleston.
For decades, city officials have been implementing their own brand of scorched earth tactics that have brought us to the place we are now. Now is not a time for trivial talk of wet lawns or photo-ops in hip waders or hardhats; there are real people whose lives are being destroyed in places like Shoreham, Shadowmoss, James and Johns Islands and the downtown East Side neighborhood. Children are getting sick, the elderly have no place to go, and still the destruction continues. Enough is Enough!
The FixFloodingFirst.org website has received over 150 entries and 1,300 petition signatures since its June launch. Johns Islanders speak of flooding as the new Johns Island experience. Many have friends who have flooded: who will be next? Who will be protected, who will not?
We cannot as the “nuclear” editorial opines leave it all up to our city officials to fix this. The very same city staff that helped craft the city’s Century V Plan professing great reverence for “sense of place” and “building light on the land” still control city planning, but curiously they now actively support developers over citizens.
Charleston officials do not get their own set of rules. Violations in building codes/FEMA standards described in our letter to FEMA are far more serious than the city appears willing to admit. And it is complicit. It is for that reason we asked for outside intervention.
We are educators and citizens invested in our community. We encourage readers to consider our 17 page letter to FEMA and the words of others who have taken the time to talk with us. Please consider before harsh judgment Dr. Phil Dustan’s work with Mayor Riley and city of Charleston committees for many years along with his work on Johns Island (www.change.org/p/charleston-city-council-save-river-road-johns-island-sc-from-more-developement), Beatrice Bernier’s co-founding of a grassroots organization “Groundswell” and Dr. Ana Zimmerman’s adoption into her own home of an elderly neighbor after Shoreham Road flooded (www.postandcourier.com/opinion/commentary/how-a-james-island-neighborhood-was-destined-to-flood/article_bd3b74bc-47b3-11e8-aa19-e7d4831c6408.html).
Those of us who live in Charleston deserve the safe and quiet enjoyment of our homes. For some, flooding means delays and detours. For others, thousands of gallons pouring into their homes creates a living nightmare of uncertainty, despair, financial ruin and even illness. The prized possessions of their waterlogged lives (furniture, toys, books, bedding, family pictures, along with drywall, carpeting, and much more) are far too often seen piled curbside.
In the course of Charleston’s unfolding human tragedy happening right before our eyes, it became necessary to reach out for help. The first duty of government is to protect the health and safety of its citizens. Elected officials have a responsibility: protect and serve, protect and listen, protect and learn. Reflect upon not only our neighbors, but the neighborhoods of the future. Give action to what is and went wrong, make amends if necessary, and change our building practices accordingly.
We urge the city to consider how to save the East Side neighborhood, preserve the unique character of the Historic District, fix the debacle on James Island and rectify the rampant destruction of Johns Island.
Beatrice Bernier is a former urban planner and a co-founder of the grassroots Groundswell! organization. Phil Dustan is an ecologist and College of Charleston professor. Ana Zimmerman is an immunologist and College of Charleston professor. (Ms. Bernier, a co-founder of Groundswell!, and a valued contributor to this grassroots group, resigned her leadership role some time before the letter to FEMA described above was drafted)