Posted: June 4, 2020
In various community discussions on the Army Corps’ 3 x 3 study, we’ve heard some of the same questions asked repeatedly related to the roles and responsibilities of the City and of the Corps and have posted and answered them below. It is important to note that there are comments and questions that need to be addressed by the Corps as it relates to the specifics of this Feasibility Study, yet there are also broader, separate questions that need to be directed to the City. HCF has been consulting with colleagues in other states and jurisdictions, as well as locally, to identify certain best practices to facilitate a successful partnership with the Army Corps.
The Corps has certain parameters within which they have to work. What are those parameters?
The mission of the US Army Corps of Engineers is to “deliver vital public and military engineering standards; partnering in peace and war to strengthen our Nation’s security, energize the economy and reduce risk from disasters.”
Among its many directives, the Corps is the primary federal agency involved in federal construction to help reduce community flood risk. In our case, the Corps required Congressional authorization to study flood risk management for the Charleston peninsula and develop a recommended plan. That plan is then subject to Washington, DC level Army Corps review and sign-off by the Corps Chief. After that point, there are some additional designations within the Corps and a prioritization in the Corps’ annual work plan that a project would require in order to be eligible for Congressional authorization and funding for the next phase, which is referred to as the PED phase (Pre-construction, Engineering and Design.)
How does this plan fit into the overall flooding strategy for the entire city?
In January of this year, City Council adopted the recommendations of the Dutch Dialogues Charleston (DDC) Final Plan as an overall guiding policy document for the City. HCF applauds this action, and reaffirms its commitment to full implementation of the DDC recommendations as we examine the concept of peninsula perimeter protection. HCF urges the City to re-engage the DDC team, whose subject matter experts identified certain parameters for perimeter protection and made specific recommendations for the peninsula, East Side and Medical District. Soliciting detailed input from this team at the outset of the project to advise during the feasibility phase and beyond will ensure that the Corps plan will complement and enhance our overall flooding and sea level strategy citywide.
How will we pay for this?
While the 3×3 study is fully authorized and paid for by the US Congress, actual design, engineering and construction of the perimeter wall is not. As the non-federal partner of the Army Corps, the City is responsible for a 35% cost share with the federal government after the feasibility phase has been completed (the current phase set to conclude in October 2021). For this project, that means the City will be expected to fund approximately $613 million of the total $1.7 billion estimated cost (which will likely change).
Fortunately, the City will not be required to come up with all of that revenue at once or immediately, as the Corps requires the non-federal partner to contribute 35% of the cost of each project phase. For example, if Congress approves and funds the next phase, Pre-Construction Engineering and Design (PED), the City would be responsible for 35% of that phase cost. Right now, the study estimates design costs at 7% of the total project cost or $76 million. The City’s cost-share for the PED phase is not required up-front and occurs in phases. If Congress approves and funds the phase after PED, the Construction Phase, that is also cost shared at 35% for the City, or $26.6 million.
City officials have affirmed that no existing revenue streams that have been identified to address other flood management initiatives will be expended for this project, should it move forward. $613 million is certainly a huge sum, and elected leaders will have to be creative and collaborative in raising the necessary revenue.
While the City is responsible for 35% of the project cost, it should look to other partners and jurisdictions to support its share. There are numerous examples in other areas of the country where the non-federal partner to the Corps has teamed up with and developed a cost share program for the non-federal match. For example in New York City, two current Corps projects in the City have used a cost sharing sub-agreement with the State. We also can look to the Charleston Harbor deepening project, where the South Carolina State Ports Authority partnered with the Corps, yet actively engaged with the State to support its project. The Charleston Peninsula is a major economic and historic asset for our state, and more jurisdictions than just the City have a vested interest in protecting that valuable asset. The City of Charleston must engage with the State, and even Charleston County, to identify how these entities can work together to protect the peninsula for the long term.
Early engagement of the South Carolina Congressional delegation by the City is critical to the project, both to achieve a good, locally preferred outcome in the 3×3 process in the short run, yet also to achieve authorization and funding for the project in the long run, assuming the City can develop a Locally Preferred Plan that the community can get behind. The Army Corps reports to Congress, and is thus highly responsive to members of Congress who can reach out directly to the upper echelons of the Corps hierarchy as necessary now and throughout the life of the project. This, of course, does not negate the need to maintain a positive partnership with the Corps District office here in Charleston. The SC Congressional delegation also identifies authorization and funding priorities for the entire state, as we compete with other localities and states for resources. The City must engage with the delegation to ensure that Charleston is included in that dialogue and prioritized appropriately.
Who at the City will manage the next phase (assuming we get there) where actual planning, engineering and design work is done?
Before committing any funds or even engaging in the next phase with the Corps, the City must be proactive in identifying its anticipated management plans for the project. The management plan should incorporate the rigorous process and parameters set by the Corps for each phase of the project and how the City intends to staff, fund and execute each phase. The City should commit staff and empower them to actively manage the City’s relationship with the Corps and be the point of interface between the Corps, elected officials, stakeholders and consultants. As part of this effort, the City could formulate both external and internal task forces (comprised of City and Corps staff, residents, business, environmental and civic entities) to ensure that the management plan is transparent and establishes trust between all involved parties.
Who is going to manage the real estate acquisition and right-of-way work that is going to be required for construction of the project?
For this project, real estate and right-of-way acquisition are the obligation of the City of Charleston, as the non-federal partner. As part of the Feasibility Study, the Corps has included a “Real Estate Appendix” that identifies all preliminary and estimated real estate requirements for implementation of the plan. The Corps estimates real estate costs for the project to be around $129 million, for which the city is entirely responsible. Those costs are based on GIS data available through the County Assessor’s Office. Though that $129 million will be deducted from the City’s 35% total project cost share of $613 million, the City will need to identify a plan early for how attain that funding.
Additionally, the City will need to develop an acquisition schedule, identify acquisition challenges and designate who will manage real estate acquisition. Real estate acquisition is another City responsibility where it will be important to engage an external stakeholders task force who can provide insight into real estate values, real property law and management best practices.
Pictured above – a visualization of how the proposed 12-foot wall would look on Lockwood Drive, near the marina. Photo by jaredbramblett.com. Not associated with or developed by the Army Corps.