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City Council, September 26

Implementation of Church Creek flood water mitigation may take 4-5 years
Cynicism over future City energy savings

Marc Knapp

The consultant retained to study the Church Creek drainage basin got lots of praise last night from the Mayor and some Council members. It was probably deserved but we thought that many of the observations and conclusions made in its presentation last night were obvious, and had been stated by citizens and others over the years.

Mr. Robert Horner, using maps and diagrams, showed the immediate impact of a high tide and the hurricane generated surge; and the lengthy time for flood waters to dissipate. He said there was no single smoking gun for the basin’s flood problems. But he noted the following;

• Church Creek was a very small and shallow where it entered the Ashley River, thus hampering the swift outflow of retained water.
• The railway line and Bees Ferry Road which transected the areas acted as barriers retaining flood waters.
• A significant part of the Basin is in a flood plain.
• Many of the channels formed to dissipate flood water acted as a conduit into the basin during the storm surge.

Mr. Horner said a report will be given to the City on October 30 and will contain recommendations and estimates. Predictably, recommendations will include widening and strengthening channels and culverts, more channels under Bees Ferry Road and the railroad, surge protection on channels, and the creation of outlets for the flow of stormwater beyond that of the present Church Creek/ Ashley River junction. He also added that remediation would require the acquisition of easements. He also added that mitigation could be helped by cooperation with the developer of the Long Savannah property which abuts the Basin.

Mr. Horner gave no hint as the likely cost of the mitigation but said that the implementation would require a 4 to 5 year time frame.
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The magnitude of the figures on the first item on the Ways and Means agenda got out attention. It obviously got Council members White’s as well. We shared his cynicism.

Essentially the item stated that the City would spend $13.2 million over the next 15 years to upgrade the energy and operational efficiency of the City’s facilities. The cost would be funded by the $17.6 million in “cost avoidance” over the period. In other words, the cost would be funded by energy savings. The program would be administered by Johnson Controls and by amending the 2001 contract between the company and the City.

“The scope of works includes improvements to 72 city facilities including … LED interior lighting upgrades and controls, Parking Garage lighting upgrades. R-22 equipment replacement, HVAC Building Controls improvements, chiller replacements, mechanical system upgrades, MLK new pool enclosure and upgrades etc….”

Council member White wondered why the HVAC systems installed in recent years, and they were a goodly number, would be replaced. They had a projected life of 15 years or more. He suggested that those installed within the last 10 years should remain. He also was skeptical about the cost savings projected. He said over the years, the City had moved to reduce energy costs but each year, despite projected savings, energy costs rose. Some other Council members were uneasy about the assumptions and the scope of work. So a decision on the item was deferred for staff and the Sustainability Committee to provide more clarity.
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Lost causes or not? The folk from the Charleston Area Justice Ministries (CJAM) were out again last night though in a diminished number. They were objecting to the appointment of RTI as a subcontractor to Novak Consulting to undertake the audit of racial discrimination by the City’s police force. They pointed to the lack of experience of the subcontractor in such matters. The issue was raised at the previous meeting by Council Member Waring but he failed to persuade Council. Last night, Council seemed again unmoved.

We note the employment of theater tactics by one speaker. In Citizen’s Participation he dropped to his knees and asked folk to join him in prayer, presumably hoping for Devine intervention to move the heartless souls of the white Council members who opposed the CJAM requests. We were not impressed.

I wonder whose side God would choose - that of the CAJM who feel black folk are unjustly targeted by police but sustain no injury apart from indignation, or of the Council that feels that traffic stops in high crime areas help catch criminals and reduce crime?
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We are tempted to call Council member Waring’s attempt to change the ability to vote against a Planning Commission (PC) recommendation a lost cause. But maybe he knows more than we.

Presently the Council needs a 75% majority vote to overturn a PC recommendation. The issue came up some months ago and although the majority of City Council wanted the vote reduced to a simple majority, it failed to achieve its objective. The reason was that the PC needed to first approve a change in the super majority vote. It didn’t approve the changes and City Council could not muster the 75% super majority to override it.

But Council member Waring is now having another crack at it. He wants the threshold to be a simple majority of a quorum. He had support of the majority of members but not of the Mayor, or Council members White, Williams, Shahid and Seekings. Representatives of the Historic Charleston Foundation and the Preservation Society spoke against the proposed change.

It seems that Council member Waring is hoping this time round for support on the PC. If the PC does not support the change, a vote on City Council is unlikely to reach the 75% super majority and the cause will again be lost

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