Councilmen Louis Waring and Mike Seekings asked for a discussion Tuesday night regarding flooding issues in communities they represent, but they weren’t alone. Not long into the talk, other councilmembers noted flooding problems among residents they represent.
Charleston has been grappling with intense flooding problems for more than 25 years, made worse by strong storms at high tide. The issue became so bad in the last storm season that city police closed access to the peninsula to avoid cars flooded out on the roadway.
The problem is the large price tag for these projects and the sparse dollars available for the work. The city only collects about $1.5 million a year to put towards longterm stormwater improvements. The West Ashley water pump Waring would like to see addressed would cost between $4 million and $10 million to fix. The downtown area Seekings wants improved, including a portion of Harleston Village, would take tens of millions of dollars.
“It’s a cash flow thing,” says Laura Cabiness, the city’s stormwater manager. “All of our drainage programs are competing for the same funds.”
She notes both projects are next on the priority list, behind the massive Crosstown flooding project, expected to take more than $140 million. The city has only identified $10 million to go toward that work, all of that from a federal stimulus grant.
There is some hope that Market Street drainage improvements expected to begin later this year, will come in under budget and provide some money to advance the West Ashley drainage project. There will also be money available in 2012, when the city finishes paying off debt for previous stormwater improvements.
Waring says that the community has grown frustrated with delays, and he called for swift action.
“I dare say, there’s an element of hostility,” he says in the community where water rolls into homes. “Now they’re beating me and badgering me in time with the mayor.”
Mayor Joe Riley promised to redouble efforts.
“One at a time, we’re taking on these serious drainage challenges,” he says.