Addressing the threat of repeated flooding in the Lowcountry is no small task for the Charleston region's elected leaders, but one new intergovernmental task force aims to at least start by looking at the little things that cause drainage issues.
The Countywide Intergovernmental Flood Prevention Task Force Committee, comprised primarily of state senators and representatives, met for the first time Monday to discuss the new group's mission to help residents resolve flooding issues in their neighborhoods.
A common complaint among people who deal with repeated drainage issues is that they don't always know who to hold accountable for their problems. A resident who lives in the city of Charleston might be seeing flooding on their street because of a clogged drainage ditch that's maintained by a different jurisdiction a street over, or vice versa. Sometimes, the S.C. Department of Transportation has authority over a faulty piece of infrastructure, but residents have no way of knowing it.
Finding out who should investigate and resolve those issues has been an ongoing problem, partly because there's no higher authority to oversee it all. The task force hopes to become that authority, according to S.C. Sen. Sandy Senn, the chair of the group.
"I think there is an ability within existing budgets and using a lot of equipment as long as we have intergovernmental cooperation to get things done," she said.
Senn helped establish a similar committee on James Island, part of her district, which became the prototype for the countywide group.
"We think we've made great strides and great progress," she said. "I think this is the way to do it, to get…the stuff that we can fix fixed now."
She stressed that the central goal is to focus on near-term, affordable solutions — not major infrastructure projects.
Still, several lawmakers on the committee took the opportunity to discuss the big picture.
State Rep. Wendell Gilliard said the region won't be able to fix flooding without halting development in the rapidly-growing region.
"If you want infrastructure to keep up, you've got to stop building," he said.
Charleston City Councilman Kevin Shealy, who represents outer West Ashley, said the drainage projects needed in the flood-prone Church Creek basin will require funding from other levels of government.
"The city of Charleston cannot take on Church Creek by itself," he said.
State Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, for his part, argued that local governments should consider zoning changes to keep developments away from known problem areas.
While those issues might come into play for the new task force, for now, Senn said it will focus on taking stock of the neighborhood-level issues and making sure the right authorities are working to address them in a timely fashion. She expects the committee to have progress to report by the next meeting on Jan. 28, 2019.
Earlier in the day, Gov. Henry McMaster announced an executive order that creates yet another similarly-minded committee on the state level to foster more coordination among government agencies and officials. The South Carolina Floodwater Commission will include state department heads, mayors of coastal communities and other elected officials to be appointed by the governor. The first meeting will be held sometime next month.