South Carolina Conservation Groups Warn Charleston Development Will Worsen Flooding

By Michelle Liu | June 15, 2020

Conservation groups in South Carolina are challenging a 3,000-acre (12,100-hectare) development project in Charleston over concerns that a loss of wetlands could worsen flooding in an already flood-prone area.

The Sierra Club and the South Carolina Wildlife Federation argue that the Long Savannah community development in the West Ashley area of Charleston would affect more than 200 acres (81 hectares) of wetlands that would otherwise store floodwaters during major storms.

The challenge comes amid a much wider debate over Charleston’s future as a coastal city as sea levels rise and floods become more frequent. The development is west of the Church Creek drainage basin, where the city has bought out dozens of flooded homes since 2017 through Federal Emergency Management Agency grants.

The environmental groups filed a petition for the state board of the Department of Environmental Health and Control to overturn certifications for the project issued under the federal Clean Water Act by agency staff.

“During this day and time, we know better than to fill and build in floodplain wetlands,” said Amy Armstrong, executive director of the South Carolina Environmental Law Project, which is representing the groups.

“These activities have led to people’s homes being repeatedly flooded and have exacerbated flooding by eliminating important flood buffering wetland systems,” she added in her statement.

The Long Savannah proposal has been hailed as one of the largest developments in Charleston’s history. Work on the project stalled following the deep 2008 recession.

Developer Taylor Bush said the project will also include a 1,628-acre (660-hectare) public park and an agreement that protects nearly 1,900 acres (nearly 770 hectares) of freshwater wetlands within the property from future development.

“Because of these commitments and the incorporated drainage improvements, the project provides a significant public benefit,” Bush said in an email. “DHEC recognized this benefit as reflected in the issuance of its certifications.”

In addition to state certifications and federal permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, developers must also comply with municipal stormwater ordinances.

Matthew Fountain, Charleston’s director of stormwater management, said developers should implement best management practices to mitigate any problems caused to stormwater by building on wetlands.

About 12.3% of the project area lies within the Church Creek drainage basin.

Liu is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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