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Editorial: Charleston County missed a big chance to address flooding

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union heights nchas flooding.jpg (copy)

Water was slow to subside in some areas of the Union Heights neighborhood of North Charleston after a strong thunderstorm in July. 

The 10-year update to Charleston County’s comprehensive plan, which the county Planning Commission approved last month, has a lot of good recommendations for steering the community in a livable direction.

But there’s one element that is noticeably under-emphasized — flooding.

The new document contains dozens of pages with guidelines and recommendations on everything from zoning to transportation planning to emergency services to energy usage. But mentions of flooding are few and far between, and there are no specific recommendations for protecting the county from rising seas and stronger storms.

Action items call for a flooding-specific update to the plan, the creation of a green infrastructure plan and a better coordinated effort between the county and other stakeholders in the region to address water-related problems.

But that is a disappointingly thin list of proposals considering that county officials have been working for more than a year to update the comprehensive plan as required by state law.

Certainly, the document’s creators were well aware of the public’s concern regarding the issue. Multiple public comments gathered during public meetings on the plan update, including at least two lengthy letters, lay out the challenges presented by flooding and call for meaningful action to mitigate growing threats.

Flooding should be a particularly prominent subject in the comprehensive plan. After all, it touches on virtually every other topic — transportation, housing, land use, etc. — covered in the document. A discussion of those other issues is incomplete without accounting for one of the primary natural challenges facing Charleston County.

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And the county will have to take a stronger role in the response to flooding. City officials have hired a resiliency staff, completed a sea level rise strategy and identified specific projects to mitigate flooding, for example. But the city’s financial resources are limited, and flooding threatens other municipalities in the county as well, including North Charleston and Mount Pleasant.

Besides, floodwaters don’t recognize city limits. The county’s reach and resources will be necessary to help keep residents safe and dry.

Tonight, County Council will have a public hearing on the final draft of the comprehensive plan update. Those concerned about flooding — and the numerous other issues addressed in the plan — should make sure that officials have their priorities straight.

Of course, approving a document is only a first step. Too many components written into the last comprehensive plan 10 years ago still have yet to materialize in any significant way. And the pressures of a growing population make good planning and follow-through all the more important.

The public must hold County Council accountable to implement the many sensible policies laid out in this update. And they must demand that one of the greatest threats facing the county be given more than passing mentions and a promise to come up with more ideas later.

Charleston County’s best-laid plans will be all but meaningless if everything is underwater.

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