By Paul Gable
Flooding has again taken center stage in the news in Horry County this week while government officials continue to search for solutions.
Horry County faces potential problems from two different types of flooding. Flash flooding from extremely heavy rainfalls over a short period of time and riverine flooding when a large amount of water makes its way through the watershed from North Carolina to below Georgetown before it exits to the ocean.
While the county storm water plan addresses ways to attempt to mitigate flash flooding, attempts to mitigate riverine flooding have been largely ignored.
Even the task force put together by Governor Henry McMaster after Hurricane Florence suggested little more than to recommend cleaning out ditches, planting some trees and searching for ways to buyout homes which have been damaged or destroyed by recent flooding events.
Since this is an election year, the flooding problem is now present in the political dialogue where it should have been continuous at least since Hurricane Florence in 2018.
Horry County District 6 council member Cam Crawford opened his reelection campaign by proposing a resolution for county council to consider that would urge the state legislature to pass a bill his wife, Rep. Heather Ammons Crawford, is pushing in Columbia that would allow the county to borrow money from the state to provide local matching funds for buyouts of some flood affected homes.
Jeremy Halpin, Crawford’s primary opponent, said more is needed than just a bill for the county to borrow money. He proposed County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner appoint a Flooding Task Force subcommittee to propose, study and recommend a number of options to help the county mitigate flooding of both types.
Crawford responded by calling Halpin’s suggestion ‘political grandstanding’ and said he (Crawford) has been involved with the Governor’s Task Force working “since Hurricane Florence on research and meaningful solutions to flooding in our area.”
Crawford did tell a local television station that Horry County has the strongest storm water management plan in the state, but, maybe, council should consider adding sub-developments of 10 homes or less to its requirements.
Crawford’s statements are ridiculous on several levels. Sub-divisions of 10 homes or less already in place or being proposed in the county are few to none.
The county’s “strong” storm water management plan essentially boils down to using old ditches around former farm land to now drain sub-divisions containing hundreds of homes. The Governor’s Task Force recommendation of keeping those ditches clean states the obvious. However, county staff constantly complains of a shortage of funds budgeted to storm water management by county council to even accomplish that task. Where is Crawford’s voice on that issue?
There are some proposals being considered by a few elected officials that actually may help reducing flooding to some extent.
Four members of the county legislative delegation, Reps. Kevin Hardee, Jeff Johnson, William Bailey and Tim McGinnis, have signed a letter recommending using funds remitted to the county from the state Department of Natural Resources to perform what is called a “Snag and Drag” in the Waccamaw River.
This is not a dredging project. Rather, it is a process which would remove some of the debris which has accumulated in the river from the last several flooding events, thereby making the river more navigable and providing a smoother flow of water through its course.
North Carolina has already used the process to clean out debris from 53 miles of the river north of Horry County. A smoother flow of water in North Carolina only means flood water reaches Horry County sooner, then backs up here as the debris in the river acts as an obstacle to normal flow. When the Waccamaw River backs up, the water level in the Intracoastal Waterway rises. The Intracoastal Waterway overflowing has caused flooding in the district both Crawfords represent.
The obvious question, if Crawford is truly working so diligently on flooding issues, is why his wife Heather Ammons Crawford, her former boss Alan Clemmons and political consulting partner Russell Fry, also representatives, have yet to sign the letter requesting use of DNR funds for this project? It will take majority support of the county’s legislative delegation to make this happen.
Two counties in North Carolina, Columbus and Brunswick, have proposed having Horry County and Bladen County (NC) join in a regional study for flood mitigation along the Waccamaw River. The cost to Horry County to initiate the study is estimated at $20,000. This seems a small price to pay for possible mitigation solutions for flooding of the river.
Included in this regional study would be the possibility of creating an environmentally friendly greenway, approximately six miles long, which could serve as a spillway that could be opened in times of large amounts of storm water flowing down the Waccamaw. The spillway would run from the Waccamaw River to Mullet Creek near the North Carolina/South Carolina border and act as a relief valve similar to spillways used on dams.
The concept of diverting flood water from the Waccamaw has been mentioned in Horry County since the 1940’s. Now seems to be a time when it should be seriously studied.
The above are just a couple of options that could help with flooding in the area. There are inevitably more that would arise if a county appointed task force was formed with “everything on the table” as Chairman Gardner has said.
It is certainly something worth doing rather than settling for the little that has come so far from the governor’s group and county storm water staffers.