Far inland from Tropical Storm Irma's surging waves that drew intrepid TV news crews Monday, homeowners in low-lying areas near wetlands and tidal creeks watched the water rise around their homes for at least the third time in as many years.
On Brookside Drive in Hanahan, Todd Baker still has the waterline from Hurricane Matthew of 2016 marked on his garage door's frame. Irma’s flooding stopped shy of the main floor of his home Monday, but he knows it’s only a matter of time before another storm hits.
Like many other homeowners living on streets parallel to Turkey Creek, Baker thinks overdevelopment of wetlands and inadequate cleaning of the creek are contributing to the recurring flooding problem.
“It ain’t what it once was, even in my short tenure here,” Baker said.
Just down a slight incline on Brookside, Pedro Rodriguez slogs through the silty expanse between his backyard and the creek, treading on a bed of invasive elephant ear plants to keep from slipping. He talks about his surroundings like a sanctuary, a place where he used to walk among the ducks and egrets on quiet mornings before going to work as a teacher.
“It’s a beautiful place, but my wife got sick of it after — not Matthew, but the storm before it,” Rodriguez said.
Now retired after decades living in the home, he rents the house out and deals with the flooding as a landlord. During Hurricane Matthew last year, the water crept up four steps in his garage, covering his floors seven inches deep. He has replaced the floors and installed a water pump to bail out the garage.
“It’s like this property is part of the drainage system,” Rodriguez said.
Hanahan City Administrator Johnny Cribb said the city has committed to provide matching funds for an Army Corps of Engineers study of flooding problems on Turkey Creek. The study has not yet begun. Ultimately, he said it is a federally maintained creek and any dredging would have to be funded by a federal agency.
“As the city we’re trying to connect all the dots and connect the county and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” Cribb said. “The cost to fix this thing is maybe greater than our city budget.”
"This isn’t a neighborhood flooding issue," Cribb added. "This is a tidal creek that comes up through the neighborhood, and we’ve had now three really large rain events that have impacted residents in that area."
The neighboring city of North Charleston saw floodwaters rising as early as Monday morning, shutting down a stretch of North Rhett Avenue near I-526 to run pumps out of Filbin Creek. As during Hurricane Matthew and the fall 2015 flood, the water was rising into the streets of nearby Park Circle and a waterlogged trailer park.
Another problem area: Pepperhill, a neighborhood off Ashley Phosphate Road where some residents say over-development along the nearby Palmetto Commerce Parkway is causing the wetlands to spill into their homes year after year.
Runoff from Popperdam Creek was still trickling into neighborhood streets Tuesday morning as Tom Brown assessed the damage from his mother's front yard on Peppercorn Lane. After the flood of 2015, the house was so badly damaged that they had to strip the structure down to its studs and start over with renovations. This year was not as bad; the water stopped just short of the door.
The city of North Charleston has committed to a $100,000 study of drainage problems on the nearby McChune Branch and its tributaries, and has applied for $1.3 million in federal Hazard Mitigation Grant funds to buy and demolish nine houses in Pepperhill just down the street from Brown's home.
Jason Gardner owns one of the affected houses, and he isn't happy with the city's response to the flooding.
"I'd rather them fix the problem, but it's not gonna happen," Gardner said. "I don't have faith in them."