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Horry County's new flooding task force faces rising water and limited resources

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After flooding02.jpg (copy)

A flooded street in the Aberdeen Country Club community near Longs in Horry County during 2018's Hurricane Florence. Andrew J. Whitaker/ Staff

HORRY COUNTY — Coastal South Carolina faces a flooding crisis. 

And Horry County’s flooding task force, under the auspices of the county council’s infrastructure and regulation committee, was charged with guiding the government’s effort to best utilize a finite amount of resources to solve the growing list of flooding issues. 

“This is something we have been planning for a while. When we started this we didn’t know we’d get sued by Myrtle Beach or that we’d have COVID-19,” Horry County Chairman Johnny Gardner said to start the meeting. “That set the county back.” 

It’s no secret that Horry County has been subject to the same riverine and flash flooding problems plaguing the entire Southeast. And the COVID-19 pandemic has created economic hardships on government budgets delaying potential infrastructure improvements and expansion of the stormwater department. 

Gardner charged the committee to explore all options to solve flooding and inform the public. 

“There are a lot of ideas out there,” Gardner said. “But I’ve asked y’all to help me.”

Committee members include developers, county staff, environmental activists and politicians such as Al Allen, William Bailey, Orton Bellamy, Ken Richardson, Alex Hyman and Kevin Hardee.   

While Thursday was the task force's first meeting, the flood mitigation process has been ongoing for years. When Hurricane Florence devastated hundreds of homes, displacing thousands of residents, the talks took on a new weight and importance. 

Flash flooding, the type seen immediately after heavy rains along roadways and in yards, typically requires smaller and more localized solutions. Riverine flooding, when heavy rains across an entire watershed push a river out of its banks, requires more complex and regional solutions.

Horry County has the Waccamaw and Little Pee Dee rivers flowing within its borders. The Intracoastal Waterway is also a contributor to riverine flooding in the area. 

Mitigating both types of flooding is a costly endeavor, but riverine mitigation requires coordination with other counties, states and the federal government. Horry County is currently working on plans, talking with statewide leaders and applying for federal grants to get help solving river flooding issues. 

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An overall flood mitigation plan is expected to be presented at an upcoming council meeting. 

Riverine flooding is becoming a fairly regular occurrence, although often not as severe as what followed Hurricane Florence. Just last month the Waccamaw River inched into the moderate flood stage and threatened homes along the river. In February, homes in Socastee and outside of Conway had water all around their property following heavy rains in North Carolina. 

“One we got a lot of rain and two we are a flat area,” Horry County Stormwater Director Tom Roth said while presenting information on how the area floods. 

Horry County’s Courtney Frappaolo, who heads up the grant writing and community development department, gave the task force an update on where these efforts stand. Many of these grants are through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

Currently, the county is seeking more than $30 million in grant funding. Typically, the county applies for these programs through the state of South Carolina. In early 2019, the county asked the federal government for permission to work directly with national agencies for these grants, but that request was denied.  

A key application that has been an ongoing process is the creation of a plan to secure FEMA’s buyout program to help flood victims get out of their homes — although flood victims are not required to apply for a buyout. In addition, the county is trying to get a grant from HUD’s Community Development Block Grant to supplement FEMA in helping purchase flooded properties. 

“Sometimes we just need to get folks out of harm's way,” Frappaolo said. 

School Board Chairman Ken Richardson, a property owner along the Waccamaw River, cautioned the committee that many residents don’t want to relocate away from the river. He said in addition to the buy-out program, the county needs to look for other ways to help. 

The other grants aimed at better understanding how the area floods, what flooded communities need to mitigate future flooding and explore potential infrastructure improvements within specific areas in the county. Typically these projects are looking to use FEMA Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities and CDBG money.

“Sometimes when we talk about the CDBG and HUD grant, it’ll take two years to set up a program and then another 12 months to get those funds,” Frappaolo said. 

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