Posted: December 7, 2018
By Winslow Hastie
It can be bewildering to fully decipher all the flooding initiatives that are in various stages of development in the City of Charleston. The following is a snapshot of a few of them:
The Army Corps’ Charleston Peninsula Coastal Flood Risk Management Study (launched in October 2018)
This 3-year, $3 million federally-funded study is critical to determining preferred approaches to addressing flood risk on the Peninsula (essentially identifying the best infrastructure investments with the most impact). These solutions will be defined within the first year, after much public/stakeholder input, and in the subsequent two years, the government will “rate” each solution using their complex cost-benefit analyses. At the end of the study, we will have “shovel ready” projects identified and signed off on by the Army Corps, putting Charleston in a much more competitive position for federal funding. It is important to understand that this study is only looking at coastal risk, as in storm surge, sea level rise and nuisance flooding—not stormwater.
City of Charleston Vulnerability Assessment (January 2019)
This citywide study will essentially map out the major assets of the city, then overlay the risks that they face due to multiple different hazards (earthquake, flooding, extreme heat, etc.) so that the city can better plan for resiliency. This project will help inform decision makers in establishing priorities among competing projects and resources. Since our infrastructure needs are so huge, this will be extremely helpful in determining priorities for capital investment in resilience and adaptation projects.
City of Charleston Hazard Mitigation Plan (June 2019)
This is also a citywide study, funded by FEMA, that will identify specific projects for future federal funding through the various FEMA grant programs. This plan will build off of the Vulnerability Assessment, but with a focus on the best approaches to securing FEMA assistance. It is important that both FEMA and the Army Corps are key players in these planning efforts since they are critical when looking for federal funding.
City of Charleston Stormwater Program Manager Contract (early 2019)
Outcomes of the contract services will likely include an update to the Master Drainage Plan (which hasn’t been updated since 1984), identification and prioritization of future drainage projects, management of existing projects and the identification and securing of funding from a variety of sources (state and federal). This is particularly important because of the recent re-structuring that the Mayor has initiated within city departments. Stormwater and drainage projects were previously managed within the massive Public Service Department, but Stormwater has recently been turned into its own separate department because of its increasingly significant role in urban planning and capital investments for the city. This issue is so important that it certainly deserves its own department—there is currently an open job posting for a head of this new department. This is a prime opportunity for the city to find a progressive, forward-thinking leader who can take the Dutch Dialogues mode of thinking, weave it into all these other studies, and chart the best path to implementing these huge, complex infrastructure projects.
I can commiserate with those that read through this list and feel a sense of malaise that’s often referred to as “plan fatigue.” I get it. However, this is a complicated issue and the city, county, state or federal levels of government have not allocated adequate resources towards identifying the problem, or intensively analyzing how to address it. Also, different streams of funding will require this degree of analysis so that Charleston can demonstrate that its leadership has deeply studied the issue, explored alternatives and developed priorities. However, none of this is actionable until we get aggressive and creative on the funding side of the equation. To this end, the city has hired a firm called First Tryon, a financial advisory firm that specializes in municipal finance and creative financing solutions, to help identify different approaches to funding what has informally been called our $2 billion problem. They need to be an active participant in these planning efforts so that we can chart a path forward that leads to implementation.