This marks the latest installment in City Paper's ongoing series "After Riley" presented in conjunction with Lowcountry Local First, Preservation Society of Charleston, S.C. Community Loan Fund, Coastal Conservation League, and IfYouWereMayor.com. In it, candidates have been asked to answer a series of questions regarding culture, commerce, and livability. Candidates have responded with no knowledge of any other participant's answers.
The series will culminate on Sept. 30 with a forum put on by these organizations. The forum is free and open to the public. Those interested in attending can RSVP at YourCharleston.org.
Flooding in the Charleston area is problematic, impacting not only commutes but also safety and general quality of life. As sea levels rise and storms become more frequent and intense, how would you protect the city against the increased flooding and sea level rise?
Charleston is expected to have 30 days of "sunny day" flooding yearly by 2020. We have to take this seriously. Pumping stations and seawalls will only go so far. Charleston must make further use of its natural resources, like our wetlands and tidal creeks, to help safeguard against extreme flooding. Replacing wetlands with impervious sources only exacerbates our flooding problems, so we must plan new development responsibly. Our city must work with regional, state, and federal leaders to plan and prepare for climate adaptation, so our city can be resilient to the projected rising sea levels and severe storms. Broad-based public-private coalitions are critical to the success of a strong resiliency program and plan. It requires that public and private leaders come together to assess the vulnerabilities of the city's (and region's) infrastructure and systems, and plan creative ways to improve them. In addition, the National Academy of Sciences has chosen Charleston as one of three communities in the nation to pilot its Resilient America program, which is aimed at helping communities build resilience to extreme events.
As mayor I will complete all existing drainage projects to include the Septima Clarke Parkway (Crosstown), Market Street, Calhoun Street, and Forrest Drive/Playground Road in West Ashley. As funding permits, I will continue to implement other stormwater improvements, increase investment in drainage efforts, and update the Master Drainage and flood plain management plan as needed. Disaster preparedness and recovery experience is essential for the mayor of the City of Charleston. Having worked in emergency management for several disasters across the country including Hugo and Katrina, I know as mayor I'm ready day one to provide disaster management for our city if needed.
The pump station slated for the Crosstown and surrounding areas is going to be tremendous, but the project isn't scheduled to be completed until 2020. Unless other dollars become available to do something else, this situation will remain unchanged, which is very hard to fathom. More information is needed and more public discussion is required concerning rising sea levels and the impact on a Charleston of the future. There's an opportunity to look at resiliency on a more intense level.
The city is in Phase 2 of a tunneling project to increase stormwater drainage and decrease flooding. We need to implement the Market Street tunnel and the drainage projects on the Crosstown, Calhoun Street, Spring/Fishburne Streets, and West Ashley Forest Acres. We also need to find technological solutions to alleviate the strain felt on pump stations by expanding the pump's capacities. My long-standing relationships with regional, state, and federal leaders will be key in accomplishing this flood mitigation plan. They will also serve Charleston well in the event of a storm or other flood event to ensure that Charleston receives every bit of assistance we need. We will also need to remain focused on this issue continuously over time. That means exploring new technologies and funding opportunities to attempt to improve drainage city wide.
As recent studies have shown, flooding in Charleston has gotten considerably worse in recent years, with so-called "nuisance flooding" up more than 400 percent since 1960. That's why I've worked with several subject-area experts to develop a flood-relief plan built around four major priorities: (1) completing the city's current drainage and pumping projects to ensure that we have the necessary infrastructure; (2) working with citizens to create neighborhood "gutter watch" programs that will empower people to report and, when appropriate, help clear clogged storm drains; (3) encouraging rainwater collection and reuse with green roofs, rain barrels, and more; and (4) exploring new technologies that could prevent tidal waters from backing up the storm drainage system. Of course, none of these solutions individually is a silver bullet. But, together, they can and will make a real difference in our quality of life.
During my tenure on Charleston City Council, I had the great honor of working with Mayor Riley and the members of City Council to establish the stormwater utility fee as a funding source for drainage improvements and other supportive activities. If elected mayor, I will continue the storm water capital improvements that were identified in the 1984 approved City of Charleston master drainage and flood plain management plan. In addition, to further protect the city against the increased threat of flooding, I will work with City Council to adopt alternative strategies referred to as green infrastructure. These alternative strategies would encourage wetland restoration, which serves as the first defense against flooding, as well as a natural wastewater purification system. This system would filter pollution and recharge clean groundwater aquifers. Green infrastructure mimics nature's design and incorporates the existing ecosystem into the city's built environment. Using these techniques, Charleston can benefit from the water processing services that nature provides at a much lower cost. In addition, I will focus city resources on core services like drainage. If we prioritize our resources towards solutions that directly impact the lives of citizens, we can build pump stations for those areas which are desperately underserved in drainage infrastructure, such as the neighborhoods along Highway 61.