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'Fix Flooding First:' Lowcountry-wide group pushes for action on drainage problems

Fix Flooding First

Laura Cantral, executive director of the Coastal Conservation League, announces the launch of Fix Flooding First, a new coalition to pressure Charleston officials to make flooding issues the top priority. Abigail Darlington/Staff

Neighborhood groups from Johns Island to Mount Pleasant have partnered with historic preservationists and conservationists in a new effort to convince Lowcountry leaders that addressing flooding problems should be their top priority. 

Key members of the coalition, going by the name Fix Flooding First, announced their plans Thursday at the foot of the Low Battery seawall in downtown Charleston.

While the location was symbolic — the century-old wall is rapidly deteriorating and sinking into the harbor — the group aims to put the spotlight on flooding problems across Charleston County, not just the flood-prone peninsula.

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Water floods the Low Battery during Tropical Storm Irma on September 11, 2017.  Charleston city staff, preparing for the city's first sea-level rise project, will meet with Murray Boulevard residents Wednesday night to share details — when work is expected to begin and what traffic closures may look like. File/Matthew Fortner/Staff

The group includes members of the African American Settlement Community Historic Commission, the Coastal Conservation League, Groundswell!, Historic Charleston Foundation, the Johns Island Council, Johns Island United, the Preservation Society of Charleston, Save James Island, Save Shem Creek and the Southern Environmental Law Center.

"Flooding does not know boundaries," said Kristopher King, director of the Preservation Society of Charleston. "It affects all of us. We have different problems, and we're going to need different solutions for different parts of our region."

Initially, the group plans to pressure Charleston County Council to use half-cent sales tax funds to pay for drainage projects. They're asking municipalities to pass resolutions demanding it.

The tax, which county voters approved in 2016, was intended to pay for transportation projects, as well as drainage facilities. It's expected to bring in $2 billion through 2030, and Coastal Conservation League members said the county could tap into the $200 million available now.

The county's 2017 Hazard Mitigation Plan lists dozens of drainage projects that are planned or ongoing in all of the cities and towns within its boundaries, but the document doesn't include an estimate of how much all of them will cost, or how many more projects are needed. 

The city of Charleston alone has estimated that it will cost $2 billion to implement all of its drainage improvements.

On Monday, data released by the Union of Concerned Scientists showed that nearly 8,000 homes in Charleston County could flood at least 26 times a year if the sea level rises by 2 feet by 2045, considered by climate experts to be a worst-case scenario.

Eileen Dougherty of James Island, who spoke at the Fix Flooding First launch, said she's been going to watch the sunset at the boat landing on Sol Legare Road for years. It eventually turned into a project to monitor how high the tides were rising.

"Over the years, we have seen a change from the tide coming up the boat ramp, to covering parts of the road, to, in some cases, flooding the entire parking lot," she said.

John Wright, president of the African American Settlement Community Historic Commission, said the historically black Phillips Community in Mount Pleasant is flooding more often, too, and many residents blame newer developments nearby for sending water their way.

In addition to funding drainage projects, all of those who spoke at the launch event said it's time for local governments to re-evaluate building practices and how they plan for drainage. 

The group launched a new website,, where residents can find out more about the initiative and upload photos of flooding issues in their own communities.

Reach Abigail Darlington at 843-937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail.

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