Charleston officials have taken a lot of criticism recently from residents who say the city hasn’t done enough to prevent and mitigate flooding. But North Charleston has its own share of flooding problems, and the city should act more aggressively now before the situation gets even worse.
On July 20, an unusually heavy downpour left several homes flooded in North Charleston’s southern end, where the city abuts the northern part of the Charleston peninsula. Neighborhoods in that part of the city tend to be mostly black and lower income.
But while flooding that day was worse than normal, the issue has been well-known in those same neighborhoods for decades.
When most of the homes in the Union Heights neighborhood were built, for example, water was expected to run off into nearby creeks. But as the area grew increasingly industrialized and I-26 split communities in two, there was more runoff and less ground where it could be absorbed.
Mayor Keith Summey, who grew up in the Chicora-Cherokee neighborhood, has acknowledged that flooding problems there are long-standing and well-known. But he told Post and Courier reporter Hannah Alani that the city wouldn’t get to work on fixing the issue until plans were finalized for a nearby rail yard shipping container port.
That’s a troubling misplacement of priorities.
For one thing, the infrastructure needed for the new port facility under construction is extensive. It’s likely that new concrete and asphalt will alter runoff patterns, which could cause or exacerbate flooding in nearby neighborhoods.
Studying drainage in the southern part of North Charleston should be part of the planning process for port infrastructure, not something to tackle when those projects are already underway.
And North Charleston’s southern end has been long neglected in a variety of ways, not just flooding. Much of the area is considered a food desert, for example, where residents have to travel several miles to get to the nearest full-service grocery store.
New port infrastructure, too, has some residents concerned about further splitting communities and dragging down property values.
The fact that flooding in the southern end of the city has been overlooked for so long is part of a larger pattern of ignoring the area’s needs in favor of focusing on North Charleston’s faster growing — and more prosperous — northern end.
There are already two other studies on flooding in the works in North Charleston — one in the Pepperhill neighborhood and surrounding communities, and one in the Filbin Creek basin near Park Circle. Both are certainly needed.
But North Charleston officials should also consider a citywide flooding study — and accompanying modifications to stormwater standards, the zoning code and other ordinances — to keep the problem from further spiraling out of control as rising seas and stronger storms make threats worse. The southern end of the city should be of particular concern.
Mayor Summey and North Charleston City Council members should take note of the heat Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg has taken — both fairly and unfairly — for flooding in the city. There is even a risk that Charleston homeowners could see their flood insurance costs rise if federal officials determine that the city undermined disaster prevention standards.
North Charleston residents are suffering too. They cannot be ignored.