The 1,000-year flood, Hurricane Matthew and Tropical Storm Irma each flooded our church on Bees Ferry Road with water so high we paddled through our sanctuary to assess the damage. After three consecutive years of rain and storm events, flooding has become part of the Crosstowne story.
At first, we were angry. However, through our faith in God and community, we put our anger into action and a quest for accountability.
The surrounding area will continue to be inundated with floodwaters unless local governments rein in development and put flooding solutions in place with urgency. The property our church was built on was developed in 1984, and it was not until 2015 that flooding was experienced. Now, flooding is a regular event for our Church Creek neighbors and us. What changed between 1984 and 2015 culminated with the widening of Bees Ferry Road and additional development, all adding more impervious surface area and runoff into the flood-prone Church Creek drainage basin.
We must put all political bias aside and acknowledge the crisis we are in with flooding. Flooding deserves urgent attention from every local official. The city is making development decisions based on hypothetical models, simulations and reports that say new developments will not exacerbate flooding in existing communities. However, time and time again those models turn out to be insufficient. We are being presented hypothetical solutions in a situation where the only real things are flooding, people losing their homes and, yes, more development.
Recently, City Council voted to lift the building moratorium in the Church Creek drainage basin. Now, previously approved development projects are resurfacing and moving through the permitting process without any new infrastructure in place to mitigate the flooding they will cause. Our reality today is vastly different from when these projects were initially approved.
When the moratorium initially was put in place for the Church Creek basin in 2016, it was a nine-month protective measure against new subdivisions, such as the Harmony residential development, from moving forward until concrete solutions were achieved. It was extended for six more months, and then in October, arbitrarily lifted.
Keep in mind that the development moratorium was not lifted by city engineers, storm management specialists, hydrologists or environmentalists. It was lifted by politicians feeling pressure from developers who want to build on land that is unsuitable and threatens the lives and homes of surrounding neighbors. The moratorium kept us safe, but now intensified flooding looms on the horizon.
Though city engineers are looking for solutions, elected officials are approving new development in an area known to flood. City officials must be willing to ask tough questions about whether to build in vulnerable low-lying areas. They cannot just pick the engineering answer they want. They must submit to objective empirical data even if it says, “STOP.”
At Crosstowne, we have had no choice but to take matters into our own hands. We have hired a water resource engineering firm to collect data and monitor water levels to demonstrate that this flooding mess is getting worse with more new construction. Data has revealed that we have a good chance of flooding every few years, not just during a named-storm event. Also, we have filed objections to the Army Corps of Engineers against new developments. We have also joined the Fix Flooding First coalition, a resilient and determined gathering of residents and community leaders voicing their concerns, identifying locations prone to flooding, and exerting pressure on elected officials.
Crosstowne Church is not the victim here. The victims are the hundreds of residents who have been forced from their homes and relocated because of a lack of development foresight. Our response-to-action is an expression of our moral responsibility to our church and surrounding community. We are not anti-progress or anti-development. We want real and tangible solutions to address this problem. Flooding impacts all of us, and the city needs to address it. That is what is fair and just, and we will not settle for anything less. As long as the solution is hypothetical, so should future development because the flooding is now and the flooding is real.
Paul Rienzo is lead teaching pastor at Crosstowne Christian Church in West Ashley.