Aah, Venice in our own back yard!
It’s time for everyone to quit complaining about flooding in downtown Charleston and just embrace it.
We could turn this to our advantage.
See, no matter how much the city does to alleviate flooding on the peninsula, we are always going to have streets that are periodically underwater. That’s what happens when you have a sea-level land surrounded by tidal waters.
Rain at high tide = big problem. So let’s just go with, well, the flow.
Instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on complex pumping stations, let the streets flood and market ourselves as the Venice of America.
Helen Hill and the crew at the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau could run with that. They have already thought of it.
“I’m thinking my friends Tom Doyle and David Compton should add gondola tours for fantastic views of our historic city,” Hill says. “But we’d need to recruit opera singers year round to make it successful.”
OK, so there are complications. And some residents might lose the first floor of their homes, but we can sell it to them by promising no more horse carriage tours and no more skateboarders.
Of course, the punks would probably just get paddleboards.
No plan is perfect.
When it rains...
Charleston was close to being Venice long ago.
And that’s part of the problem. All the places with bad flooding — the Crosstown, the Market, Fishburne, Calhoun, the appropriately named Water Street — were once waterways.
Yes, Charleston has been dumping pluff mud and oyster shells in creek beds to create new land for centuries, and only stopped when the federal government developed “environmental protection” regulations in the 1950s.
And you see where that’s gotten us.
“Virtually every place that floods on the peninsula was once a creek bed,” says Laura Cabiness.
Just letting the water run wild would certainly make her job easier. Cabiness is the city’s director of public services, something she doesn’t advertise often since everyone likes to complain about flooding.
But she’s working on it.
Right now, the city’s Market Street drainage project is making progress and should be finished in four years. The Crosstown project is slated to be done by 2020.
Still, there’s a lot of water to move. Consider this, Cabiness says: Where a sanitary sewer line might be 10-12 inches, the stormwater tunnels the city uses for the same area are 10 feet wide.
And still we have flooding. So maybe we should just let it happen.
Most folks around here have boats anyway.
Floating the idea
Charleston has a long history of turning bad situations to our advantage.
We started the Civil War? Hey, come tour our historic forts.
The city is almost leveled by an earthquake? Hey tourists, look at the neat earthquake bolts in our historic houses.
We hung a bunch of pirates on The Battery? Pirate Fest!
This could work. The advantages are too numerous to count. Kayak rentals in the Market, tubing on King Street, water ballet at Spoleto. And think of how much better we’d be able to see the Charleston Christmas Parade of Boats.
Gives “floats” a whole new meaning.
As picturesque as Charleston is now, imagine how great it would look with gondolas drifting down Meeting Street. Nothing says elegant like a gondola.
So long as they come with air conditioning.
Bottom line, this Venice thing could be the economic boon we’re looking for and we could probably even cut taxes if we didn’t have to pay for all those pesky stormwater tunnels.
But the best thing is, city workers wouldn’t have to take off work at 2 p.m. because no one around here can drive in the rain.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org