Folks living along Bucksport Road aren’t leaving their neighborhood despite repeated flooding over the past half-decade.
Just a year ago, The James R. Frazier Community Center in the community was surrounded by barriers as Hurricane Florence floodwater encroached in September 2018. The building was spared, but many of the homes near it were not.
Folks across the county are looking for the government to do more to help. On Thursday, Bucksport residents, many of whom lost their homes in the 2018 flood, gathered in the community center to address their concerns with a team of national experts from across the country.
“Bucksport is an island,” said Willie Graham, who has lived in Bucksport his entire life. His home flooded during Hurricanes Matthew and Florence. “Water surrounds us, all I can do is stay here and make sure my family is alright, my mamma’s alright and everybody’s alright. There’s not a whole bunch of people who want to leave where they grew up.”
Bucksport is located outside of Conway down U.S. Highway 701. It is a low-lying area near where the Waccamaw River meets the Intracoastal Waterway. The area only has a handful of entrances, with most inaccessible by car during Florence. Flooding during Hurricane Matthew and Florence left hundreds without access to the area.
Horry County Community Development Director Courtney Frappaolo said Bucksport was the main reason the county began drafting a Flood Resiliency Plan in the months following Hurricane Florence.
“We can’t allow this to happen again. We need to become more resilient and bounce back better than we did after Florence,” Frappaolo said.
The plan aims to help local leaders decide how to best prepare and recover from flooding with public resources. Bucksport’s Horry County Council Member Orton Bellamy said it’s important for the community to be proactive and seek expert advice in order to develop prevention strategies that actually work.
Once the plan is complete, it will be presented to Horry County Council and the public. The information could be used to update regulations, determine new capital projects and help secure FEMA funding. The federal dollars will most likely come through the State of South Carolina, Frappaolo said, despite an attempt to get the money sent directly to Horry County.
Plan before money
Still, to help any federal dollars reach Horry County, the federal government likes to see flood resiliency plans in place before they start sending out checks, consultant Thomas Jost of Sherwood Design Engineers said.
Jost started Thursday’s meeting by giving a recap of how Hurricane Florence happened. Hurricanes are moving slower, he said, and understanding flooding is becoming more complicated.
Scott Shuford with CASE Consultants International told the crowd about the difference between river flooding, like during Hurricane Florence, and flash flooding after a storm. Horry County is at risk for both and the plan hopes to provide a road map for each.
Residents were separated into several groups, each paired with an expert to record the conversation.
The groups gathered around flood maps of the area and discussed their concerns, ranging from affording flood insurance, making sure stormwater pipes and drains are cleared, flood preparedness, and FEMA and its flood maps.
Recently, Horry County unveiled new flood maps. Large portions of the community were added into the flood zone, which will require more people to purchase flood insurance, which can create a financial burden.
Is this ‘authentic?’
At the end of the meeting, Conway Community Leader Cedric Blain-Spain stood up in front of the crowd and wanted to know if the consultants and government officials were “authentic” in wanting to help the people of the community. He was worried the information gathered by the researchers would one day be used to further hurt people.
“Will the data gathered here tonight be used against the residents of Bucksport to further the economic interest of special groups? Is this an authentic meeting?” Blain-Spain asked. “You get paid big bucks to be here tonight.”
Funding for the plan was provided through a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant for $210,000 with the county initially planning to add $70,000. But county Spokesperson Kelly Moore said the local contribution was increased to $190,000 due to the consultants’ contract costing more than what was budgeted.
Jost said while he was being paid to be here, he wants to work with the community to make Horry County safer from flood waters and secure more government funding to help residents recover. But for the plan to work, Jost said the community needs to be engaged and supportive.
“You’ve asked me if I am authentic, and I am going to say right here: absolutely. I mean it,” Jost said.