City of Conway officials received a briefing from SCDOT officials yesterday about the barriers at the US 378/US 501 intersection in Conway.
SCDOT officials said the Waccamaw River is expected to crest approximately three feet higher than it did from Hurricane Matthew two years ago.
Without the barriers, SCDOT models projected US 501 would be under three feet of water when the river crests.
SCDOT is placing the barriers in an attempt to maintain a one lane each way lifeline for supplies to Myrtle Beach along US 501. US 378 will be the lifeline into the county and US 501 the lifeline east of Conway to the beach areas. All other access roads into the county are expected to be closed due to flooding, according to the SCDOT models.
Officials said there may be more flooding of homes than has been seen in past storms because of the historic levels the river will reach. However, no homes were being intentionally sacrificed in order to divert floodwaters.
During the half hour video I watched, no mention was made of the coal ash ponds near the former Grainger Generating Station. However, the letter from Gov. Henry McMaster demonstrates there is also concern of that issue.
GSD received information from a former Santee Cooper official who was present during the meetings of county and city officials during the 1999 Hurricane Floyd flooding. According to the official, sacrificing US 501 by dynamiting the road to create a trench through which floodwaters could flow in order to reduce flooding into Conway and the Grainger plant was discussed. That move never became reality during the flooding from Hurricane Floyd.
Conway officials mentioned they had been left out of the loop of initial planning discussions for the barriers. SCDOT officials and Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus promised better communications with city officials.
Original Story below:
By Paul Gable
Since yesterday, City of Conway officials have been looking for answers from the State of South Carolina regarding flood barriers being placed along US 378 and US 501 Bypass intersection in the city.
Several city officials we spoke to on conditions of anonymity said the city was not contacted by state officials prior to the decision being made to erect the barriers.
The concern of city officials is that the barriers will form a chokepoint along the Waccamaw River forcing advancing floodwaters, in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence’s record setting rain totals, into areas of the city not normally prone to flooding. City officials project an additional 944 homes will be subjected to flooding as a result of the barrier chokepoint.
Yesterday, local media reported Conway City Administrator Adam Emrick questioned SC Department of Transportation officials about whether the state had any modeling or other scientific studies demonstrating these additional homes would not be flooded as a result of the barriers being placed along the roads.
After questions arose about whether the properties of Conway residents were being risked in order to maintain an open road corridor for the benefit of tourists and residents of Myrtle Beach, a letter from Governor Henry McMaster to James Brogdon, Interim CEO of the SC Public Service Authority on state Rep. Kevin Hardee’s Facebook page.
In the letter, McMaster stated concerns about the structural integrity of coal ash ponds adjacent to Santee Cooper’s decommissioned Grainger Generating Station just south of Conway. McMaster requested Santee Cooper act immediately to take all appropriate measures against anticipated flooding to protect the environment including sandbagging the dikes surrounding the “coal ash ponds” at the former Grainger Generating Station to prevent leakage of water, ash or sediment from the coal ash ponds.
Coal ash is what is left over after coal is burned to generate electricity. It contains whatever heavy metals were present in the coal before it was burned as well as other potentially toxic compounds that result from the burning.
According to a licensed professional engineer consulted by Grand Strand Daily, the concentration and content of heavy metals remaining in the coal ash as well as other toxic compounds resulting from the coal burning depend on where the coal was mined. He said, if the coal ash became mixed with the floodwaters, the resulting environmental damage downstream could be quite extensive.
A July 15, 2017 article in the Charleston Post and Courier reported that arsenic, lead and other pollutants were included in the toxic sludge remaining in the coal ash ponds at the former Grainger station.
Santee Cooper originally resisted removing the coal ash from the former Grainger station, but, ultimately bowed to pressure from environmentalists and the public and began removing the coal ash from the former Conway plant to lined, sanitary landfills.
However, considerable amounts of the coal ash sludge remain at the former Grainger station apparently prompting the McMaster letter.
One question arising from events is “are the 944 additional homes potentially threatened by flooding as a result of the barriers being sacrificed for the greater good”, so to speak?
Another is why has very little information about this potential environmental threat been forthcoming from state and Santee Cooper officials?
A report on the environmental dangers from the breach of a coal ash pit in Wilmington, NC because of Hurricane Florence is available here:
Governor Henry McMaster’s letter:
September 16, 2018
James E. Brogdon, Jr., Esquire
Interim President and Chief Executive Officer South Carolina Public Service Authority
Post Office Box 2946101
Moncks Corner, South Carolina 29461-2901
Dear Judge Brogdon:
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me again this afternoon regarding the impact of ongoing weather events on the South Carolina Public Service Authority’s (“Santee Cooper”) operations and facilities.
As we discussed, I am seriously concerned about the structural integrity of the coal ash ponds adjacent to Santee Cooper’s decommissioned Grainger Generating Station (“GGS”) and the environmental risks associated with anticipated river flooding. Accordingly, this letter will confirm my request that Santee Cooper act immediately and take all appropriate measures to protect the environment, to include placing large sandbags on the dikes surrounding the GGS ash ponds to prevent breaches, overtopping, or other failures. By copy of this letter to the Board of Directors, I am advising them of the foregoing concerns and directing them to act forthwith to address the same and avoid any risk that water, ash, or sediment is released from the GGS ash ponds.
Please keep me informed of your progress. Should you have any questions or concerns, or if I can be of assistance in any way, please do not hesitate to call. I look forward to your prompt attention to this important matter.
Yours very truly,
cc: Board of Directors of Santee Cooper
c/o Elizabeth Henry Warner, Esquire, Corporate Secretary