I recently attended a meeting about flooding in Charleston's West Side neighborhood. It was coordinated by Charleston City Councilman Wendell Gilliard and was attended by city officials, including Public Service Department Director Laura Cabiness and Rep. Henry Brown, who were on hand to get opinions and answer questions.
The city plans to construct an estimated $130 million floodwater drainage system that would service an area roughly encompassing the West Side from Spring Street to Hampton Park, between Coming Street and the Ashley River.
I asked when work to construct the system is to begin. The answer I got was, "When the city gets the funding." I've asked the question many times over the years, and I always get the same answer.
Downtown flooding has been a perpetual problem as long as I can remember. As a child on the city's East Side during the 1950s, we played in floodwaters on America Street after heavy summer rains. Years later some of my friends made money pushing stalled cars out of the water. As a teenager, street flooding negatively impacted my life — some streets became inaccessible and prevented me from regular Sunday night visits to a girlfriend's house.
As an adult I've come to realize that flooding in Charleston has even more serious consequences for homeowners and those who rent their homes. As a renter, I've had the experience of being unable to get in and out of my home because of flooding. When I lived near Coming and Morris streets, the floodwaters sometimes rose to my elevated downstairs porch. I have a couple of friends whose parked cars were damaged by floodwaters.
More recently, the yard for my home, located near Line Street and Ashley Avenue, would fill with floodwater. Coming home during heavy rains meant taking off my shoes and socks and rolling up my pant legs just to get inside.
I sympathize with kids going to and from schools in the neighborhood — Burke High and Mitchell Elementary schools — who have to wade through floodwaters. Why don't the parents of these children put more pressure on the city's administration to eliminate some of the flooding?
I can only imagine the frustration of homeowners who have watched the foundations for their houses be destroyed by floodwaters — and the value of their properties drop.
At the West Side meeting, one homeowner said about nine years ago she asked city officials when she would get some relief and was told the city would address the problem in 11 years. She reminded Cabiness that the city has about two years left to fulfill that promise. I guess you get just as much as you're willing to tolerate.
Cabiness said plans to address the city's flood issues have been in the works since 1968. Since then millions of dollars for drainage have been spent to reduce the problem in some areas of the peninsula. This administration seems to have put its focus on flood drainage in every other area of the peninsula except where it will most benefit residents and taxpayers.
For example, the administration found the money to address the problem on Hagood Avenue and Lockwood Drive near Joe Riley Stadium. And last year, the city found money for flood relief at Calhoun and East Bay streets near the S.C. Aquarium, but residents on parts of Gordon Street still get nearly a foot of floodwater during heavy rains. For those reasons, I'm apprehensive about the sincerity of city officials.
Recently, Gilliard was quoted saying he is outraged that the city found $3.7 million to refurbish the Dock Street Theatre, yet he apparently hasn't been successful finding money for the proposed flood relief project.
I'm outraged this administration has found the money to subsidize the construction of the Charleston Place complex, build a baseball stadium, and spend more than $60 million to build the aquarium before funding adequate drainage for residential neighborhoods. The flood drainage project is estimated to cost $130 million.
Could it be I'm missing something?