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Shrimp n' Grits

It’s the Drainage Stupid!
Lee Walton

The severe flooding, property damage, disruption of commerce, and subsequent shutting down of the Peninsula of Charleston during the afternoon and evening of Friday, December, 18th was yet another example of the reckless, unacceptable, and inexcusable performance of the current City Administration. This unprecedented disruption of the lives of tens of thousands of people, either trapped in the Peninsula or trying to drive through it, ranks only slightly below the recent inexcusable and tragic death of nine Charleston City Firemen – the root causes of both can be nothing less than incompetence and a gross dereliction of duty by public officials responsible for the health, safety, and welfare of the citizenry of Charleston.

Over the past several years, Shrimp ‘n Grits has offered several articles about the increasing frequency and severity of flooding within the Peninsula. Rather than offering new argument on the subject, selected excerpts from these articles are repeated below.

“Charleston’s current administration, unlike most other coastal cities throughout the South, remains content to play an annual game of Russian Roulette with the lives and property of its citizens by continuing to divert critically needed local revenue from storm water infrastructure construction and maintenance in favor of more politically beneficial, high-visibility projects of dubious value. For over three decades, the Riley Administration has failed to develop a concerted, well-planned strategy to cope with chronic flooding commonplace throughout most of the Peninsula and low-lying suburbs.” – Shrimp ‘n Grits, August 31, 2008.

“The truth is very basic, albeit far less world-class and glamorous than Riley’s diversion of the City’s financial resources to pet, high visibility, and want-to-be award-winning monuments to his ego. For over three decades the street and drainage infrastructure of Charleston has been financially short-sheeted. The damaging consequences of this chronic under-funding are now far more than an occasional embarrassment and the harbinger of a future tragedy during a major storm event. But for Riley, maybe that’s what it takes. He’s now having to pour tens of millions of tax revenue into his Fire Department that for decades was stripped of all but spit, polish, and sharp-creased, albeit flammable, uniforms with deadly consequences.

“Like the Fire Department, Charleston’s drainage infrastructure cannot be kept barely functional on near starvation level funding for decades without unintended consequences. Playing catch-up from years of severe under-funding and gross neglect in today’s regulatory and construction cost environments will be a daunting task for even the most dedicated public servants and taxpayers alike. Drainage infrastructure that, arguably, could have been constructed at former reasonable costs and maintained with decades of dedication and adequate funding, will now take at least a decade of dedicated sacrifice and hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to accomplish.

“What peninsula Charleston’s drainage facilities require is not “Tricky Engineering” or any more of Riley’s voodoo economics. What are needed are the dedicated commitments by a mayor and city council to allocate the necessary public resources to construct and maintain the mundane, out-of-sight things that will keep our feet dry and our cars and property from flooding. Unfortunately for Riley, storm drains lack the glitter and world-class, award-winning potential of his many other monuments that have cost the citizens of Charleston millions in hard earned tax dollars.

“What good is an aquarium, parking garage, or ballpark if we risk flooding our cars going to them? Although several areas of Charleston maybe slowly sinking back into the Ashley and Cooper Rivers, as with his Fire Department and former “Chief-for-Life”, Riley will never admit that the greatest neglect and denial of public safety and public service in the last half-century of Charleston’s history has happened during his all-too-lengthy reign.” - Shrimp n’ Grits August 17, 2008.

Mayor J. Pericles Riley “…tolerates urban flooding throughout his Acropolis because he doesn’t possess a sufficient knowledge or understanding of the problem to grasp its magnitude and complexity. Its solution is long-term, very expensive, underground, out of sight (unless it doesn’t function properly) and most importantly to Pericles; it’s not glamorous or very newsworthy. Storm water management and problem resolution have always been a mystery to Pericles. It’s one of the unique issues that have plagued his administration for three decades. He fears what he can’t understand and sees anyone as a threat if they understand what he can’t. That’s why he isn’t willing to hire and keep a professional, experienced engineering staff qualified to tackle the problem on the required scale; he just can’t stand to delegate the long-term management and solution of this complex, technical issue to the competent, professional experts essential to its resolution.

Over a decade ago, just before Pericles was up for reelection for the even then umpteenth time, a flurry of blue and white bumper stickers were seen around Charleston boldly stating the obvious. As seemingly crude as it was, this statement is still applicable today – ‘It’s the Drainage Stupid’Shrimp n' Grits, August 27, 2006.

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