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City Council, January 22

Flooding and stormwater management dominate meeting
More mitigation likely this year

Warwick Jones

Flooding and stormwater management dominated discussion on City Council last night. First there was the State of the City address by the Mayor and this was followed by discussion of a proposed 6–month development moratorium on James and Johns Island.

The Mayor’s address was given wide media coverage. We will say little more but simply add that it was an unusual address in that it focused solely on flooding with little on other major issues as traffic and parking. Clearly, the Mayor considered flooding as the major problem confronting the City. And we suspect that few citizens would disagree. The Mayor spoke passionately, eloquently and reasonably. We suspect the City will move even more aggressively this year and beyond to address the City’s flooding problems. The discussion on the proposed moratorium on James and Johns Island that followed at the completion of the Mayor’s address supports this view.

There were about 20 citizens who spoke in Citizens Participation supporting the proposed moratorium. Council generally did not favor a moratorium and in this regard, the citizens may have been disappointed. If they were, they shouldn’t be. For what was proposed should prove better not only for James and Johns Island, but for the City generally.

Firstly the proposal itself which Council member Jackson championed. Very broadly, the moratorium was proposed on those areas in the 100 -year flood plain and did not extend to all of the islands. There were also thirteen exceptions noted that would allow development.

No Council member disputed the need to address the flooding issues on the islands. But was a moratorium necessary? The exceptions cited would also lead to confusion and may indeed thwart the purpose of the moratorium. And if justified, why should a moratorium and the interim condition be confined to the islands?

There was a robust discussion, with less than robust enthusiasm for a moratorium by two Council members, but a robust rejection by most of the others. Moratoriums had unintended consequences. Council generally agreed that the City had performed badly over the years in stormwater management. Problems had been identified but no action taken largely because of lack of funding. And as Council member Waring noted, there was only modest storm activity in the immediate years after Hurricane Hugo. The need for spending on flood control became less urgent.

But as Council member Waring and others noted, a lot of the present problems such at Central Park Road on James Island could be addressed relatively simply. The capacity of the pipes that drained the area were too small for the job. This had been recognized some year ago, but no action ensued.

Ultimately, Council voted to send the moratorium proposal to the Public Works Committee, not to gets its approval but to get a recommendation as to moving forward. Presently the City is planning on hiring a Stormwater Management Director and modifying the stormwater ordinance. In the light of discussion on Council, it may also consider interim regulations until the ordinance is completed. And the Committee is likely to press for spending on addressing local flooding issues like those at Central Park Road.

The discussion and action taken last night was long overdue and is encouraging. Council members reflected on the tardiness in addressing many of the flooding issues and seemed intent on making good in future.

We confess to missing most of the discussion on the new Parking Study commissioned by the City. The Committee on Traffic and Transportation was considering the study and the meeting extended well into the time allotted for Ways and Means.

The report is lengthy (130 pages) and colorful – a print out would exhaust the capacity of a regular color cartridge. It is on the City’s web site and presently can be viewed on the Meeting Agenda page.

In a sense the report is exhaustive. It is full of data relating to the City’s parking and has a host of actions that the City could consider. And frankly, there are so many recommendations that a concise summary is beyond us. As one Council member said, the City could choose to favor or reject any of the noted possible actions.

Council agreed to adopt the Study for policy