Officials: Sea level rise is worth a look

sjones@thesunnews.comOctober 10, 2013 

— Selling sea level rise on the South Carolina coast is not the easiest of jobs, Frank Knapp, president and CEO of the S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce said before his nearly two-hour press conference on it Thursday at a beachfront highrise in Cherry Grove.

But that’s the task he’s set for his organization, and the Cherry Grove event was the first of a planned series of news conferences to raise awareness of the issue along the South Carolina coast.

The news conference was originally billed as a series of talks on sea level rise to which the public was invited, free-of-charge. But as the day drew closer, it morphed into a news conference because, Knapp said Thursday morning, you just can’t be sure how many people will show up to hear about seal level rise.

The topic is worth discussing, said Marc Jordan, president of the North Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce and one of the speakers, if only to share as information for his membership.

That sea level rise is tied to climate change doesn’t help in South Carolina.

Jordan said some of his members will tell him they don’t trust the data on global warming any more than the morning weather report.

“And to some degree they’re right,” he said. “All these things are predictions ... The sky is not falling is what I say to my people.”

Nevertheless, he cited North Myrtle Beach’s aggressive moves to take advantage of wind power and noted that major manufacturers have pledged to a percentage of their energy needs coming from alternative sources.

“Sustainable development is a growth strategy,” Jordan said.

That’s likely good for helping to slow sea level rise. Dennis Allen, a University of South Carolina marine science research professor and director of the Baruch Marine Field Laboratory at the Hobcaw Barony, said that ocean water expands as it gets warmer. Any help in holding down temperatures could lessen the potential impact of a rising sea.

The sea level rose about a foot in the last century, he said, and the affect can be seen where the high spring tides encroach farther up a shoreline and force marine forests to retreat.

Allen said that evidence of the current pace of the rise comes from 67 tide gauge systems that have been in place around the U.S. for more than 50 years. Interestingly, sea level rise affects some coastal areas more than others, and Allen said it might be because coastal land is rising or falling in one place versus another or just that some areas channel water in more than others.

He said that Maryland is recording the highest and North Carolina’s Outer Banks the lowest sea level rise along the East Coast. Measurements for Wilmington, N.C., to Charleston show that the Grand Strand currently has the highest rate of rise, four millimeters a year at Springmaid Pier.

“It’s happening,” Allen said. “There’s no doubt about it.”

Some East Coast cities, notably Wilmington, N.C., and areas in Florida, are already projecting what sea level rise can mean to things such as water and sewer systems, public monuments, parks and other things, said Chris Carnevale, coastal climate and energy coordinator for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy in Charleston.

Wilmington’s study, done with a federal grant, also developed a way to prioritize which impacts should be mitigated and in what order.

North Myrtle Beach City Councilman Bob Cavanaugh, who attended the news conference, couldn’t commit to Knapp on a course on sea level rise for his city, but he did say he wanted copies of the presentations.

He said the city, if it took action, likely would approach it the same as it has with wind power. The first step is gathering information, and Cavanaugh said the city is working with Coastal Carolina University to get data.

“We’re looking to plan,” he said with wind power. “We’re looking to exploit it. And whenever it’s feasible, we’ll implement it.”

But it won’t happen overnight with sea level rise.

“This is not something you bring up in a small council workshop,” he said.

Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.

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