Conway city officials express concerns over Waccamaw River barriers
Conway city officials worry almost a thousand homes could be threatened by floodwaters from the temporary devices state officials want to erect to keep U.S. Highway 501 open for traffic.
The city plans to file an injunction against the South Carolina Department of Transportation, Horry County and other state officials to fight those man-made barriers. The concern is that city leaders say they have not been provided information to show the barriers won’t lead to additional flooding.
“We need to make sure we’re not adding any water that could be avoided,” Conway City Administrator Adam Emrick said.
Officials have been told flooding could be 1 to 4 feet higher than what Hurricane Matthew dumped on the area in 2016, and have been informed it’s possible the devices could route several feet of water into the river, endangering about 944 homes.
“Matthew should have been a once-in-a-lifetime flood,” Emrick said. City officials have been telling people if they were flooded in Matthew, this will be worse.
Gov. Henry McMaster said during his Sunday news conference the goal is to keep U.S. 501 open.
“We must keep that road open,” he said. “That has been the plan from the very beginning, because there are only two good roads that go into there, and that’s one of them. And if it’s overtopped, we may lose that road.”
Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus said 501 mitigation efforts “will not cause additional homes to flood in the city of Conway.”
The 501 route is needed to get goods into the county, Lazarus said. The decision to mitigate the bridge is based on history and expert modeling, he added.
County officials spoke at a news conference about two hours after Conway addressed its concerns. Lazarus said there were additional discussions between Horry leaders and Conway officials in that time span. There was information shared, and “we eased a lot of concerns.” He also said that the county’s emergency center is open to Conway.
SCDOT Secretary Christy Hall said the state isn’t building a dam.
“One of the misconceptions there may be is we’re not actually damming the Waccamaw River,” Hall said. “Waccamaw River will continue to flow underneath the bridge. So we’re not damming the ... river itself, but we are putting something in place, basically, to raise the elevation of the shoulder of the roadway to make sure that roadway — the road leading up to the bridge, on both sides — stays dry.”
The SCDOT announced the plans Saturday to mount temporary flood-control devices.
“Clearly, our main focus is to ensure that we absolutely have at least one highway that will carry us east to west into Horry County across those watershed we have predicted, based on actual rainfall data and flooding that’s occurring in North Carolina that comes south,” Hall said Sunday. “As we’ve seen with (Hurricane) Matthew and previous years, we need to get ready in advance of that coming to the state.
“It’s all about planning, preparation and putting things in place to make sure we don’t cut Horry County off from the rest of the state.”
The Waccamaw River is expected to reach levels that could smash the record currently held by Hurricane Matthew. The river is expected to rise this week in Horry and Georgetown counties.
Hall didn’t specify details about the flood-control device, except that it will be approximately 1.5 miles long.
U.S. 501 at the bridge over Lake Busbee was restricted to one lane going each way Sunday afternoon as National Guardsmen worked on surrounding the lake.
Lt. Col. Bill Matheny said they were preparing to work through the night to place sandbags and Hesco barriers completely surrounding the lake in order to keep U.S. 501 open for vehicles. He estimated the work would be done by 6 p.m. Monday, as requested by SCDOT officials.
Sgt. Major Theodore Rowe said their biggest concern is getting everything up before the flooding begins, which they’ve been told will happen Wednesday night.
They had requested U.S. 501 be completely blocked off in both directions, but SCDOT decided to keep one lane open to ease traffic from returning residents, Rowe said.
As far as the plan, Rowe said they were just following SCDOT orders, and he didn’t know how well the sandbags and barriers would prove in keeping water off the roads.
“We’re just based on, this is what we need to do as far as the task and not really concerned about is this going to work or not,” he said.
Rowe added that his battalion would remain in Conway to assist with rescues, if needed. They have multiple water rescue vehicles in the area that could carry as many as 20 people at a time, he said.
Hall said the plan is to use U.S. 378 and U.S. 501 Bypass in Conway to help residents return.
SCDOT is expecting the same bridges that flooded during Hurricane Matthew two years ago to flood again, Hall said.