Charleston coalition pushes flooding policy changes with mayoral forum 

Let's Talk Water

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Dustin Waters file photo

The Fix Flooding First Coalition was created on behalf of local homeowners and residents in an effort to push candidates for office to address quality of life issues brought forth by persistent flooding in the Charleston area. The group includes conservation and business groups, churches, legal advocates, preservationists, and even the Medical University.

On Sept. 16, they'll host a mayoral forum, moderated by S.C. Public Radio's Victoria Hansen, based on a questionnaire created by the coalition. This week, we're publishing the candidates' responses to one of those questions. Voters head to the polls on Nov. 5 to elect local leaders. Below are the extended responses from all candidates. For more information on the coalition, visit fixfloodingfirst.org. —Sam Spence

Q: Assume you take office in January 2020. What will you do in your first 100 days to address flooding?

John Tecklenburg

I will continue to implement my administrations Flooding and Sea-Level Rise Plan, the most comprehensive plan ever to address flooding and sea-level rise in Charleston. Some of those first steps in 2020 will be in partnership with the Army Corps of Engineers. We will be unveiling the largest infrastructure project in city history -- a plan to protect the peninsula from flooding for the next generation and beyond. In addition, with the passage of new stormwater rules before year's end, we will be implementing new anti-flooding development regulations throughout the city.

Sheri Irwin

The first 100 days, I will quit taking grants for things we shouldn't be taking grants for ... such as, last year the city took a 60 million dollar grant to build a hotel!

I would have tried to get that money for mitigating flooding at the Crosstown and West Calhoun.

I will stop with the Public Private Partnership scam. It is a clever way of saying the tax payer pays for it and the developer makes the profit. That is why development is so out of control".

The developer should take all the risk since they make the profit.

Renee Orth

Flooding and climate crisis are two sides of the same coin. Stacking sandbags and putting out buckets will not matter if we do not fix the roof that is caving in on us. There are many things we can do that address both simultaneously - and improve community prosperity.

Charleston is ground zero for the effects of the climate crisis in the U.S. If we do not lead by example and show other cities what a climate-responsible city looks like we cannot expect other cities do so what must be done to avert a disaster. Accordingly, shrinking our carbon footprint and implementing initiatives that remediate greenhouse gases is a vital part of any plan to fix flooding.

We need to repair broken drainage systems, and some of the most flooded areas will need large public works projects if they are to be saved from rising sea levels. However, the bulk of our efforts must be informed by and work in harmony with nature and address both sides of the flooding/climate crisis coin. Additionally, the solutions to these twin challenges are not likely to be silver bullets, rather they will be incremental and varied. Furthermore, wherever possible we must leverage resources we already have, saving funds for expensive projects.

Beyond the obvious need to halt development in flood prone areas and in wetlands immediately (which will require an outpouring of public support to persuade our city council to cooperate) I am eager to promote Climate Victory Rain Gardens, which can be started immediately. Victory Gardens were a way our foremothers and fathers defeated fascism – community gardens produced over half the produce grown in the US during the WWII. Rain gardens, as featured in the Dutch Dialogues, are gardens that increase the water retention capacity of an area. We can combine these two ideas in ways that promote food sovereignty (no responsible city can be overly reliant on food coming from long distances during climate disruption), improve access to healthy food, help sequester carbon (healthy soil is a powerful tool for taking carbon out of the atmosphere), bring neighbors together, and dramatically improve the water holding capacity of our city in a manner that supports water quality in our rivers and ocean. We can find inspiration from a bold initiative in the Seattle/Puget Sound Region to install 12,000 rain gardens led by Washington State University and Stewardship Partners.

Motivating our community to shift lawns to Climate Victory Rain Gardens is a first step to activating our citizenry to realize that this crisis – and the opportunity it presents to create a more vibrant, connected and just city – requires a level of involvement not experienced since WWII. This initiative preserves limited funds for expensive and large public works projects by leveraging resources we already have – land, sunshine, people who want a stronger and more resilient city – and can be done in a comparatively short amount of time.

Additionally, I would fast track getting the tidal flooding alert smartphone app developed by the city online and in wide use. This is a great use of technology to help mitigate the impact of rising sea levels. I see this application as an excellent platform for engaging citizens more generally as we rise to the challenge of flooding and climate crisis.

Mike Seekings

We cannot wait that long, planning and implementation needs to begin now. As Mayor I will be guided by the following in the first hundred days and thereafter. The City of Charleston, with its 135,000 residents, is currently operating on a balanced budget of $215 million, which is up nearly 23 percent since 2014. However, except for the Low Battery Seawall project (which is designed and has an identified funding source through completion, including $25 million already in the bank), no money has been reserved for addressing flooding relief efforts, nor has a specific plan been mapped out for prioritizing or funding large-scale flood mitigation infrastructure throughout the City.

While many studies have been produced, we still lack a unifying plan. Such a roadmap for fully funding flooding relief efforts must, by definition, begin with identifying projects in order of importance and magnitude. Here are my top five (with the estimated cost to implement or complete):

•Calhoun West/Hospital District ($400 million)
•Church Creek Drainage Basin Improvements, Rezoning and Water Management Infrastructure ($100 million)
•West Ashley Drainage Easement Acquisition and Maintenance ($25 million)
•King & Huger Flooding Relief ($30 million)
•Johns Island Implementation of Dutch Dialogues Water Management Plan ($25 million- plus)

These are not prioritized to the exclusion of other projects but represent the most critical and unfunded efforts. Our current sources of revenue are limited and primarily include our General Fund, Drainage Fund, and Stormwater fund, none of which produce the resources necessary to tackle flooding infrastructure. We must, instead, look to effectively leverage other sources, including:

•State Infrastructure Bank: On day one, I will have the City begin the application process for $200 million dollars to commence work in the Church Creek Basin and on the Calhoun West project. These efforts will both address flooding and critical mobility infrastructure.
•Charleston County Half-Cent Sales Tax: These funds are in largely derived from sales in the City and should be used for critical flooding infrastructure needs, all of which, when complete, will alleviate the problem of water collection in our roads.
•Cruise Ship Passengers: Consistent with the unanimous vote of Council in 2015, we must implement a $25 per head landing fee which, based on current size and frequency, will raise an annual revenue of $10 million.

On day one, I will publish my list of priorities, abide by it, and be accountable for it.

Maurice Washington

As mayor, I understand that flooding is an existential threat to our city. During my first 100 days in office, I will ensure that the most knowledgeable individuals (hydrologists, geologists, meteorologists, engineers, certified floodplain managers, etc.) are placed in the proper supervisory positions of the current flood abatement projects. Individuals with the right skill sets are needed to execute, manage and/or oversee execution of these current multimillion-dollar drainage projects. I was astounded to recently learn of the current administration's realization only six months ago that persons possessing these skill sets must now be hired by the city. These persons should have been in place prior to the planning and initial groundbreaking of these projects to ensure the effectiveness and management of the current drainage projects. Moreover, the 2019-2023 Capital Improvement Plan estimates expenditures plan by both project and year. The plan recommends funding for 15 drainage projects and additional "studies" totaling $300 million. $14 million of this total is allocated to studies; however, given the city's track record of pouring taxpayers dollars into studies that never lead to action (see City of Charleston Flooding Study produced under Mayor Riley but not implemented by the current administration) the proposed allocation of financial resources should be reviewed by the skilled hires to ensure maximum benefits from finite resources. Also, as effective flood abatement cannot occur without the most current data, an immediate priority will be an assessment of the city's flood hazard plan, flood map, and rainfall data to work towards protecting the city from known flood risk.

Gary White:

I will begin by developing a twenty-year strategic plan to address Charleston's immediate to long-term issues of flooding and drainage. The plan will start by addressing our immediate opportunity, maintenance. Part of the maintenance plan will include developing a complete inventory of every outfall, pipe, storm drain and ditch that currently exist in the City of Charleston. Once an accurate accounting of the City's current storm drain system is complete then an annual inspection and maintenance schedule can be completed to ensure that our current storm drainage infrastructure is maintained properly so that it can operate at its fullest potential. Additionally, part of the maintenance schedule will include ensuing that every outfall is inspected and cleaned out at the beginning of every hurricane season. Maintenance easements must be identified, and a schedule developed for obtaining new easements to ensure the City has access to all the areas necessary to maintain our drainage system. In many cases these easements will need to be obtained from our neighboring jurisdictions. Additionally, the City must work with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control to provide a more efficient permitting process for granting permits to the City for the maintenance of our drainage outfalls. Lastly I will work with my colleagues on City Council to create a fiscal policy that prioritizes and mandates annual funding for maintenance of all the City's drainage infrastructure.


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