Flooding is Charleston’s top Priority

One might ask what do New York City and Charleston, S.C., have in common? At one point the two were voted the friendliest cities in the United States. And, according to articles in the Nov. 19 New York Times and The Post and Courier, they share another distinction. According to the Times: “Politics and bad decisions plunged New York subways into misery by decision makers who put flashy projects and financial gimmicks ahead of the train riders and daily operations.”

Steve Bailey’s Nov. 19 op-ed in The Post and Courier, posits that politicians and city decision makers have emulated New York City decision makers by failing to address flood control and infrastructure. They have failed people who live on the peninsula of Charleston and also the residents of the Church Creek Basin west of the Ashley.

In 1989 after Hurricane Hugo, Charleston City Councilmember Bob George, a stormwater engineer himself, proclaimed that a city consultant told the city of Charleston that it needed to spend $140 million to fix the damaged drainage system on the peninsula. Thousands of tons of water weight (one gallon of water weighs 8.3 pounds) from the hurricane compressed the land that then compressed, cracked and misaligned underground water drainage of terracotta and masonry pipes.

According to Mr. Bailey, little of that money was spent to fix the damaged underground systems. Instead, money was allocated to above-ground beautification/tourist/recreation projects or annexation initiatives.

Some politicians might think that a federal “bailout” is going to be a magic panacea for Charleston’s flooding problems (perhaps because we are “friendly”?). New York City thought the same when it was about to go broke about 40 years ago. But a federal bailout did not happen.

Mr. Bailey points out that at its current rate of funding for flood-related issues, the Charleston community will have to wait 240 years to fix the flooding problems that face downtown Charleston, the Church Creek Basin, and the myriad of other areas that are affected by nuisance flooding or substandard drainage in multiple suburban locations. The time is right for our citizens to rise up and demand responsible accountability from elected officials to mitigate these water intrusion problems.

The cost to fix today’s flooding problems is estimated to be $2 billion, but nobody really knows the exact amount because no plans exist. Staring at a large number like $2 billion as if one were a deer staring into headlights is not a plan.

Hope is not a plan. The problem cannot be passed on to future generations. The future is now. Flooding is the single most important problem facing Charleston.

A solution is at hand now with the city’s own ingenuity and by partnering with other resources for money — think I-526 funds, selling Ports Authority property, raising accommodations taxes, tax increment financing districts, stormwater fees.

Being self-sufficient is the responsible way to act, to repair, and to prepare for the next 100 years. Charleston should set an example for others to follow.

The “friendly” thing to do is to take care of our own problems. By doing so the city can make uplifting headlines.

John M. Rivers Jr.
Calhoun Street