Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg plans to ask the S.C. Legislature to allow the city to use tourism dollars to fund flood-improvement and drainage projects.
The mayor detailed his plans during his State of the City address Tuesday night.
Current state law does not allow fees generated from accommodations and hospitality taxes to go toward such infrastructure projects. Tecklenburg said funds generated by the 6 million tourists expected to visit Charleston in 2018 would help pay for drainage improvements.
He said the city’s No. 1 focus should be on battling flooding issues. High waters often make roads impassable and damage homes or businesses; high tides, storms and hurricanes cause flooding, and rising sea levels and new developments exacerbate the problem, he said.
“For more than 300 years, the people of Charleston have lived with the threat of hurricanes, high tides and flooding,” he said. “But now, with rising seas, a history of ill-advised development in some areas, and three major flood events in three years, we simply must make flooding and drainage our city’s top long-range priority.”
The city spent more than $32 million on drainage improvements in 2017. Efforts included approving plans for the Low Battery Sea Wall; using Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to buy West Ashley homes hit hardest by flooding; and hiring an engineering firm to work on the Church Creek Drainage Basin.
Tecklenburg outlined other plans to address flooding issues in the city in 2018:
- Hire two new full-time city employees to work on flooding issues: a floodplain manager and a grant writer focused on finding funds for drainage projects.
- Increase available stormwater fee resources by 25%.
- Create new stormwater standards for all areas of the city.
- Create new standards for historic areas that enable homeowners to preserve historic architecture and raise homes to FEMA-recommended levels.
- Continue work on large-scale drainage projects in West Ashley and on James Island, Johns Island and the peninsula.
- Break ground on the new Low Battery Sea Wall.
- Update the existing plan related to rising sea and drainage and create a website to keep residents up-to-date.
“Together, we can and will protect our citizens from rising seas, extreme weather and flooding,” Tecklenburg said. “And that goal must remain our city’s top long-range priority until the job is done.”
Quality of life
The majority of Tecklenburg’s speech focused on improving quality of life for residents.
In addition to improving flooding issues, he also talked about improving transportation infrastructure, creating more affordable and workforce housing, and maintaining public safety.
“It is a time for setting clear priorities. It’s a time for speaking directly about our plans,” Tecklenburg said. “It’s a time for rolling up our sleeves and focusing our work on the most important issues facing our city today, particularly those related to controlling overdevelopment and protecting our citizens’ quality of life.”
Tecklenburg noted that Charleston’s economic boom has created a dearth of affordable and workforce housing options in the city. In 2018, he said the city will begin work on 800 affordable and workforce housing units in the city.
Much of this work started in 2017 with the passage of a $20 million bond referendum for affordable housing; the creation of a requirement that developers include workforce housing units in large projects or pay for them elsewhere; and the renovation of existing homes under affordable housing covenants.
Regarding transportation, Tecklenburg said the city will be working on an “all-new approach to road and infrastructure projects in our city, starting with Johns Island — an approach that finally ties planning and transportation together in a way that ensures that development no longer outpaces the infrastructure projects required to support it.”
In 2018, the city will also work toward completing its citywide parking plan; rolling out a bike and pedestrian plan; and working on major road construction projects, such as widening Main Road on Johns Island and securing federal funds for the bike lane on the T. Allen Legare Bridge.