Emblazoned in the logo of The Post and Courier are two core values. Most important and cherished by the publishers are: Founded 1803 and Winner of the Pulitzer Prize.
A long publishing history that enjoys good times of recent growth and survives revolution, war, depression and economic dislocation is to be admired. In that long and important service to our community is the newspaper’s recent Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, which recognizes and rewards total journalistic efforts of overcoming obstacles to reporting, achieving results that benefit the community, using all available resources, illuminating the consequences and giving Post and Courier readers the great gift of clarity. No wonder so few publications are recognized as this is a very high bar.
Flooding is our existential task. This topic is central to our civic life. If we do it right, we survive to live another day; and if we fail, we perish. If there was ever a central concern of our community to focus upon for Pulitzer Prizes for Community Service in Charleston, our flooding, in all its many often complicated aspects, is the place to start to serve this community. There can be no higher calling or need in this town. The Charleston community needs another Pulitzer Prize from its sole newspaper of record to shine its bright lights on the now dark road we travel.
We need to act but lack involved representatives. The current cast of elected politicians fake, punt or talk their way out of our flooding challenges that, by all indications, will keep rising in importance. We need desperately to find out how well we are served by describing forthrightly courage or fecklessness for the plans they advocate and those shrouded in silence not considered.
The age of civic boosterism has passed, important as it was, and needs to give way to our prime concern that is flooding and how we all survive the new normal.
Everyone living here is in the burden distribution program, so when the time comes to pay for stormwater protection, we either pony up or plan our departure.
The current crop of elected officials dawdle with grant applications, laying their inaction onto others. The absence of real community survival protections lies at the heart of the current policy: attrition.
Drop by drop, incident by incident, house by house, story by story, we get diminished just as our homes are being devalued by their unprotected nearness to high water. We have not even identified the highways that need to be raised to keep up with the current level of gridlock while county officials testify that we can afford a big new highway that crosses a barrier island and then leave flooding out of their budget.
Profile just one elected official who is willing to grapple with flooding other than those clearing inadequate and unconnected drainage pipes. In fact, please profile them all.
The development of our current flood plan is to straddle drain maintenance, talk of drainage plans and grant applications, pinning hopes on uncertain grants that will never be enough to do the job. These works await to be specified in preliminary form and started quickly, if all is to matter.
Go to any flooded community and see how much has not been rebuilt in these hollowed-out landscapes. This is what West Ashley will look like if buyouts are all we offer. Lots of open space that we will call parks or water gardens. We need to improve much more on that.
We do need large scale studies, but they will tell us the same thing: where the water will and will not go, and this is where to start.
So now what? Studies will help us with fresh ideas and retell the obvious ones. We do need to fix flooding first and do it soon, because if we don’t, there will be fewer of us in our total population.
This is not easy, but we must address this, and The Post and Courier can certainly help with a Public Service Pulitzer for its flooding coverage.
Fred Palm of Edisto Island is a retired professor of oversight and investigations at the John Jay College Graduate School of Public Management and a former executive director of the Association of Inspectors General.