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Commission preparing for proactive approach to flooding in coastal communities

November 2019 Mayor David McCann as seen in Celebrate Hilton Head Magazine

As we come off the heels of Hurricane Dorian, I'm reminded of the precautions we need to take to manage flooding. A heavy rain can drench our roads and create deep pockets of water. Such flooding is one of the concerns residents in the historic Stoney community have, particularly as we look at road improvements for that area. When it rains hard, the causeway between that community and Jenkins Island can be overtaken by so much water that you can row a small dinghy across it.

Flooding is not only a concern for Hilton Head Island, but for the entire state. Communities across the state are faced with millions of dollars' worth of damage to property and infrastructure in the wake of recent major flooding events and nuisance flooding in coastal communities. This prompted Governor Henry McMaster to organize the South Carolina Floodwater Commission, made up of mayors from coastal communities including Hilton Head Island, Myrtle Beach and Charleston, and the chairmen of our respective county councils for Beaufort County, Horry County and Charleston County. Councilman Tom Lennox has been attending commission meetings on behalf of the town to ensure our concerns are expressed and to be part of the discussion on ways we can collaboratively address future flooding events.

The purpose of the commission is to identify potential short-term and long-term mitigation solutions for low-lying and coastal areas and areas along the state's rivers that are at risk of experiencing flooding. The commission just released a draft of its report that highlights the challenges coastal communities face and proposes strategies.

Commissioners determined communities need to be more resilient as they face future challenges with flooding. We have a tendency to react to flooding events. We feel our communities should be better positioned to respond proactively to future floods, rising sea levels and other natural occurrences. We are evaluating how we can coordinate our response efforts between communities, businesses and government agencies.

Educating the public about flood zones, how these categories could affect their lives and properties, and measures they should consider for protection is a key part of dealing with disasters. A survey of one South Carolina community hit hard by flooding in recent years showed that 55 percent of 303 respondents had sustained property damage from flooding over the past 10 years. But only 11 percent had flood insurance; some respondents said they didn't think they needed it. I'm sure the responses would be different in a place like Hilton Head Island. Our Community Development Department regularly informs the public, through a number of strategies, about the resources they should have in place to protect their property and recover from potential damages caused by disasters.

Locally, the town is looking at issues that affect our environment and infrastructure as part of the "Our Plan" process for the rewrite of our state-mandated comprehensive plan. Ways in which we deal with natural events such as rising sea levels, flooding and other disasters are part of discussions taking place in this process.

Major storms are becoming more frequent in South Carolina, according to the experts advising the commission. Our ability as coastal communities to deal with the impact of these storms depends on how well prepared we are across the state and how effective we can be at distributing resources when needed.