Developers Win Primary Elections While Flooding Continues

By Paul Gable

Recent stories in local news media about homeowners in Socastee asking county council to find solutions to flooding problems in their neighborhoods highlights the effects that will be felt from the results of the recent primary elections for county council and the General Assembly.

The story initially said the station tried to contact Horry County councilman Cam Crawford and he didn’t return calls. Later it was updated to say Crawford would have more to say in four days on the flooding issues.

Crawford did give a statement after a second story appeared in which Socastee homeowners announced a protest scheduled for July 6, 2020 at 8 a.m. in front of the Horry County Courthouse.

Crawford’s statement said he worked with the Department of Natural Resources and the Coast Guard to establish a no wake zone on the Intracoastal Waterway. Crawford also mentioned that the county expected to receive some money from the federal Housing and Urban Development Department to assist in buyouts of flooded homes. Apparently Crawford does not know wake reduction is an erosion control method not a flood control one.

What he did not say is the amount allotted to South Carolina is approximately $157 million to be split among 30 affected counties. Of that amount, approximately $35 million is targeted for home buyouts, again to be apportioned among 30 counties. The home buyouts will be based on a scale in which low income, disabled and other economically disadvantaged families will get preference.

What Crawford also did not say is that the buyout program requires a local match and the county would have to assume new debt to participate in it since the state government was not willing to provide any money in the form of grants from its at least $1.5 billion excess revenue it expects this year.

During Cam’s recent reelection campaign, a mailer was sent out supporting Cam’s reelection with a statement by Tom Mulliken, Chairman of the South Carolina Floodwater Commission. The commission was appointed by Gov. Henry McMaster after Hurricane Florence. Both Cam and his wife, Rep. Heather Crawford have touted their work with the commission as proof they are working on flooding.

Milliken’s statement read, “Cam Crawford has demonstrated tremendous leadership with flood related issues both through leadership and applying meaningful resiliency strategies. Cam is an effective leader and we need more local leaders like Cam who do more than talk – he supports his thoughts with meaningful action.”

Dismissing the rather garbled message about ‘demonstrating tremendous leadership through leadership’, whatever that is supposed to mean, the mailer is a perfect example of campaign BS. When a local media outlet contacted Cam for a story about flooding issues in his district, he couldn’t even make a comment for more than three days and only after a protest was scheduled.

You would think, if the Mulliken statement even remotely resembles reality, Cam would have been able to make a statement immediately to the news media about the “meaningful action” he is taking to mitigate flooding. I would bet if there was a photo op supposedly filling sandbags or some other such staged nonsense, it wouldn’t have taken Cam and Heather three minutes before they showed up.

Despite Mulliken’s tortured syntax, the fact is the Crawfords have not done anything to help their constituents flooding problems other than get a few ditches cleaned out, reduce wakes on the Intracoastal Waterway and support state legislation that would place the burden of local match for flooded property buyouts on the backs of local governments who can’t afford them.

And the property buyouts would be based on value of the house after flooding not estimated market value of the house if no flooding had occurred.

There is no doubt lax land use regulations in the county have allowed homes to be built in areas they shouldn’t. Even the most recent county comprehensive plan was amended at the last minute at the request of the development industry to relax restrictions on construction of new homes in wetlands and conservation areas. This is where county council can be most effective in mitigating flooding and exactly where a majority of council has refused to step in.

Developers and associated businesses have controlled zoning and construction in the county for decades. To maintain this control, the industry contributed considerable money in the recent election to keep incumbent county council members in office. This included not only direct contributions to candidates but also the running of phone banks and a concerted effort for absentee balloting. In some cases this absentee balloting may have been by people who own second homes here, according to several sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

But the process of keeping incumbents in office who will do the bidding of developers on the council dais is aided by the extremely low percentage of voters who cast ballots in primaries. Less than 16% of registered voters in the county cast ballots in the Republican primary, the only primary that counts for local office since the Democratic Party has virtually disappeared from local races.

Less than 10% of the registered voters cast ballots for the winners, the incumbents who will stay in office. It’s relatively easy for special interests to virtually control the outcome of elections and keep in place those members who will vote as told with such low turnout.

The developers were successful in their plan to keep Cam Crawford in office along with incumbents Gary Loftus and Dennis Disabato so the industry will win many more votes than it will lose at county council meetings in the coming four years.

Keeping such legislators as Heather Crawford and Alan Clemmons in office means that restrictions on the ability of county governments to institute such things as impact fees will remain difficult due to state law and that no state money will be forthcoming to help local governments with infrastructure improvements and buyouts that could help with flooding issues.

And the voters, actually the non-voters, have only themselves to blame as the floodwaters continue.

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