Frustrated West Ashley residents who have experienced repeated flood damage to their homes pressed U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg and other elected officials for answers Friday morning.
Shadowmoss residents were recently flooded, for the fourth time in three years, during Tropical Storm Irma. Many want a government buyout of their homes.
The city of Charleston applied in early 2016 for Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to buy more than 30 homes, and demolish them, but hasn't received an answer.
Bridge Pointe, a 32-unit townhouse complex, has repeatedly flooded. On Friday, its streets were lined with debris and ruined drywall once again.
"Seriously, it's no way to live," said John Knipper, president of the Bridge Pointe Homeowners Association.
It seems there's lots of blame to go around. Laura Cabiness, director of Charleston’s Department of Public Service, has said incorrect FEMA flood maps played a role in Bridge Pointe getting built. City Councilman Dean Riegel and state Rep. Lin Bennett on Friday pointed to the 2014 widening of nearby Bees Ferry Road, a construction project run by Charleston County.
State Sen. Sandy Senn, R-Charleston, suggested the state Department of Transportation bears some blame for road-related drainage problems. And residents pointed the finger back at Charleston, blaming the city for the West Ashley Circle road project and too much development nearby.
"I'm more interested in going forward than who is at fault," Tecklenburg said to a group of residents assembled in the street Friday. He told them he plans to meet with Gov. Henry McMaster next week, and he invited residents to come along.
City Council passed a nine-month development moratorium in February for part of what's known as the Church Creek drainage basin, and hired an engineering firm to conduct a study. Prior city efforts to address drainage problems there have not prevented the flooding.
"We want to be bought out, we want to move on," said resident Jan McCleod. "We can't do anything."
Some residents said prior floods have already resulted in FEMA paying them more for repairs and replacement of possessions than they they paid for the homes, and now they need repairs again.
Suzanne Buckley moved to Bridge Pointe in 2012, and said she was assured then that flooding problems had been addressed. The city completed a $3.7 million drainage project in the Church Creek area in 2010, but her home was flooded twice in 2015, again in 2016, and again from Tropical Storm Irma.
She and her husband, both 72, are renting an apartment because they can't live in their townhouse.
"What I'll end up using is our savings, and there's not a lot left," Buckley said.
On Friday Sanford, Tecklenburg, Riegel, Senn, and Bennett gathered around a kitchen table in Knipper's home — where some furniture was piled up off the floor, due to the most recent flooding — to discuss what's next.
Senn said the state Department of Transportation will inspect drainage pipes, to see if they are clogged, but most of the discussion revolved around the need for an answer from FEMA.
Sanford said he could press for an answer, but "the problem with pressing for finality right now is, you almost guarantee you won't get the grants, because of (Hurricane) Harvey and (Tropical Storm) Irma," he said.
"Squeaky wheels get heard in politics," said Sanford. "We will be squeaking, but lots of other people are squeaking."
The area that floods, part of a 5,000-acre tract covered by the Church Creek drainage basin, was mostly wetlands and phosphate mines about a century ago. Today, 80 percent is filled with commercial and residential developments.
After the Shadowmoss meeting, Sanford went to Isle of Palms to tour storm damage there with Councilman Jimmy Carroll. Tropical Storm Irma caused extensive flooding on the barrier island and washed away dunes that protect beachfront homes.
"What in the world do you do if the sea level goes up?" Sanford wondered.
Isle of Palms, under a state-approved emergency declaration, is spending $212,000 to replace sand dunes that protect beachfront homes near Breach Inlet, where Irma washed the previous dune away.
"We would like to get FEMA reimbursement," Carroll said.
Meanwhile, town officials are concerned that new federal flood maps would show some properties on the island as having less flood risk than previously thought. Without changes to town regulations, the new maps could allow some new homes to be built on the ground, rather than elevated.
"It will lower people's insurance premiums, but the potential for loss would be far greater," City Administrator Linda Tucker told Sanford, who noted that Congress plans to tackle the problem of funding the debt-ridden federal flood insurance program soon.