Development, infrastructure plans need closer scrutiny by governing bodies

By The Myrtle Beach Sun News Editorial Board

Not many people remember that Joaquin was the name of the storm system in 2015 that generated enough rain to create a 1,000-year flood. Many residents of Georgetown and southern Horry counties were still trying to recover from the 2015 flooding when Hurricane Matthew brought more misery in 2016 and now the flooding from Hurricane Florence is even greater than two years ago.

If neighborhoods on high-enough ground to miss damage in a 1,000-year flood are now trying to recover from flooding that brought a record crest of the Waccamaw River at Conway, many understandably are wondering what will come next. The term 1,000-year flood obviously has a different meaning than it did two or three years ago — or two decades ago when Hurricane Floyd, similar in many ways to Florence, created record flooding on the Waccamaw and other rivers, including the Great Pee Dee and the Little Pee Dee, which is the Lumber River in North Carolina.

How do homebuilders, planning officials and governing bodies prepare and build for the future? Do Horry County Council and municipalities like Conway plan on even worse flooding in coming years?

The Waccamaw River flows south from Lake Waccamaw in Columbus County, N.C., to Winyah Bay near Georgetown. The Great Pee Dee, Black and Sampit rivers also empty into Winyah. The Great Pee Dee originates in central North Carolina as the Pee Dee; The Lumber-Little Pee Dee joins it west of Socastee.

The record river flooding in recent days resulted after Hurricane Florence brought record volumes of rainfall (as much as 36 inches) to parts of North Carolina. We’ll leave the science and politics of global warming to others, but it’s not wise for anyone, especially leaders making decisions that impact the lives of thousands of people, to completely dismiss the potential impact of global warming.

Development is another factor in river flooding. Along the watersheds of the region’s rivers, commercial and residential buildings, huge parking lots, driveways, streets and highways all force more water from rain into streams that flow into rivers. The runoff from parking lots is not absorbed or filtered by natural things like wetlands. That’s one of the societal costs of development.

In some situations, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has a home buyout program, in which properties are purchased, demolished and the land becomes green space. FEMA covers 75 percent of the cost and state and local governments 25 percent. Neighborhoods destroyed by flooding a third time in four years might be interested in the hazard mitigation program. These are not recovery programs and must be initiated by individual states. South Carolina has not done so following Florence, and should take that action.

The buyout program is completely voluntary. “You don’t want it to be easy for the government to buy your property, and this program reflects that,” said Derrec Becker of the S.C. Emergency Management Division.

There aren’t many things governing bodies can reasonably do, but they can make smart decisions about new development in flood-prone areas, on such matters as height of roads, minimum requirements for housing stilts and so forth. Horry County and municipal governments must take a closer look at proposed developments and infrastructure.

Regional Recovery Center

The Georgetown County Disaster Recovery Center was scheduled to open today (October 7) in the Waccamaw Regional Recreation Center, Pawleys Island.

Similar centers of the state, FEMA and the U.S. Small Business Administration opened in recent days in Marion and in Bennettsville.

The Georgetown County center is at 83 Duncan Avenue, Pawleys Island SC 29585

Hours | Monday-Friday | 7 a.m. - 7 p.m.

Saturday, Sunday | 9 a.m. - 7 p.m.

Businesses, homeowners and may check eligibility for federal, state and voluntary agency assistance online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov

Phone | 800-621-3362 (TTY: 800-462-7585)

Mobile devices | FEMA app at fema.gov/mobile-app