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Finding $2 billion isn't easy: Forum to focus on funding Charleston's flood fixes


The intersection of Fishburne Street and Hagood Avenue in Charleston was closed during a heavy rain last February. File/ Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

The city of Charleston has estimated it will take $2 billion to make all the drainage and infrastructure improvements necessary to address flooding.

And city leaders have noted they can't raise this all at once, or even locally. So as the city continues its "Dutch Dialogues" to study the best solutions for living with more water, key figures will meet Wednesday night to discuss where the money might come from.

What has become increasingly clear is that the city's response to rising seas and greater flooding will require financial minds as well as engineering know-how.

"At the end of the day, 'How are we going to pay for it?' was this refrain I just heard over and over. And it’s a good question," said Winslow Hastie of the Historic Charleston Foundation, which is hosting the 6 p.m. event at the Charleston Museum.

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg, Dale Morris from The Water Institute of the Gulf, and Walter Goldsmith from First Tryon Advisors will discuss possible strategies to pay for the city's infrastructure needs.

"The need is apparent," Tecklenburg said Monday. "It's complex on many levels, because given our needs, you have to look under every rock to find the finances in order to do what we need to do."

Hastie said the conversation is not going to be "super wonky or academic," because it's designed to reach residents and voters, whose support eventually will be needed to make big changes.

"This is almost like a political campaign. You’re going to create a product that you’re going to take to the marketplace," he added. "You need to be speaking with one voice as a community, and the voters and people of our community need to be part of that.”

A lot of money is at stake. In 2017, Moody's Investor Service said the growing effects of climate change, including climbing global temperatures, and rising sea levels, will have a growing impact on city and state finances.

"This will be a growing negative credit factor for issuers without sufficient adaptation and mitigation strategies," its report said.

The analysts will increasingly examine climate risks — and what state and local governments are doing to address them — in calculating credit ratings, which affect a government's cost to borrow money.

The report differentiated between long-term climate change and sudden shocks from hurricanes, floods and other extreme weather events. 

"While we anticipate states and municipalities will adopt mitigation strategies for these events, costs to employ them could also become an ongoing credit challenge," Michael Wertz, a Moody's vice president said in a statement.

The Army Corps of Engineers recently began a study of protecting peninsular Charleston, a study city leaders hope will lead to federal dollars for future projects. Gov. Henry McMaster recently formed a S.C. Floodwater Commission, and it has a federal funding task force. 

Meanwhile, Charleston's "Dutch Dialogues" effort has scheduled a weeklong workshop in July to investigate four of the city's most chronically flooded areas, including: Church Creek in West Ashley, Johns Island, the undeveloped property where the old Cooper River bridges once stood and the downtown Medical District.

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Reach Robert Behre at 843-937-5771. Follow him on Twitter @RobertFBehre.

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