People flooded a Wednesday hearing hoping to prevent one of peninsular Charleston's last tidal creeks from being filled in.
Nearly 100 people showed up to oppose the WestEdge Foundation's plan to partially fill Gadsden Creek for further development. But those who support the project said many opponents don't live in the area and don't experience its sunny day flooding of their neighborhood streets and parks.
WestEdge's proposed development would impact about 4 acres of tidal waters and wetlands, filling in about 2.9 acres of Gadsden Creek and a former landfill, constructing new drainage outfalls to address flooding. The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must approve WestEdge's plans before it may fill in the creek.
Wednesday night's public hearing, hosted by DHEC, was triggered when at least 20 people requested it.
WestEdge Foundation CEO Michael Maher described the creek as a blighted and underused section of the city. The opposition jumped on that description, saying he used buzzwords to downplay the value of the salt-marsh area.
One opponent showed a picture of his son and a fish they caught in the creek to argue that it's a living space that should be protected. Some suggested WestEdge consider an open canal, or, if the developer has to fill in the creek, a park.
Maher said WestEdge would have planned to restore the creek if it were feasible, and he acknowledged the wildlife there. "There is nature there, but its on top of trash," he said, referring to the landfill under the creek bed.
In a presentation, Maher said the area is contaminated with methane and fecal bacteria, and that during king tides, even without rain, contaminated water rises above Hagood Street and into neighboring parks where children play.
The two-hour public hearing also brought out mayoral candidate Maurice Washington as well as hydrologists, ecologists, environmental scientists, science teachers, college researchers, and three supporters from the neighborhood association.
John McCollum, who lives on Ashton Street in the Westside neighborhood, offered support for the WestEdge project and called its plan a solution to the flooding.
"The sins of Charleston are terrible, and the history of Gadsden Creek, the way it was decimated and destroyed is terrible," McCollum said. "The regular flooding that exists in the area is holding the area back. It's an unlivable situation and it's not just along Hagood. ... Though I don't disagree philosophically with what everyone wants to achieve, we have to live in reality."
Members of the Friends of Gadsden Creek, a community group comprised of citizens, businesses and organizations against the filling in of Gadsden Creek, also attended.
Cyrus Buffum, one of the group's leaders, cited city records dating back to the 1950s in his argument, including a letter from the Army Corps of Engineers that said the salt-marsh area "is not a ditch. This is a relocated and channelized Gadsden Creek."
Others opposed to the filling cited the Dutch Dialogues — the dozens of international experts who descended on the city to research flooding — as a reason to delay a permit. A final recommendation from the Dutch Dialogues group is expected in late September. Maher said the Dutch Dialogues group is looking at long-term solutions, not immediate fixes.
"Almost everything they were proposing was predicated on the fact that there would be a sea wall around the peninsula," Maher said. "The Dutch did not study Gadsden Creek like we have. They don't understand U.S. environmental law or public finance in the American political system."
Maher said while the Dutch Dialogues research crew has only spent a few weeks at a time in Charleston, WestEdge's development team has studied the area for at least five years.
"We've said, all along, that this is a complicated situation and one that requires action and one that requires taking action on," Maher said.
Public comment will remain open until Aug. 22 through DHEC. Charleston City Council is expected to discuss the Gadsden Creek project at its Sept. 10 meeting. To review WestEdge's DHEC application, visit http://www.westedgecharleston.com/news/westedge-permit-applications/