Taking a look at What’s on the horizon for 2019

By Bill Davis | Current Staff Writer

Where 2018 was spent dodging hurricanes, starting new renourishments, and the Folly boat’s meanderings, 2019 is shaping up to be more of a year of housekeeping duties on the island.

Yes, there is always the chance of another storm. But that comes every year. What City Hall is looking at doing in the coming year is providing Folly with an alternate water supply, protecting the beachfront and marshes, and saving more money for a rainy day.

Remember last month when we reported the plan to construct a massive, and very expensive, underground water tank, termed an “aquifer?”

The idea was to create a vessel that could supply as much as a full month’s water supply, including some for putting out fires, should the water service from the mainland be interrupted, right?

Well, forget that. Or some of that.

According to Mayor Tim Goodwin, the city is still looking for an additional water supply. The concern is not just that a storm could take out the 10-inch pipe under the causeway, the bigger concern is what would happen if an earthquake knocked out Charleston Water System (CWS).

But, he says, the CWS isn’t excited about Folly’s plan to build an earthbound water tank.

Their concern, according to the mayor, is that “salt intrusion” could render the tank useless. Salt, rising through the water table, could infiltrate the massive tank, making it no longer potable.

Additionally, City Administrator Spencer Wetmore says CWS has a measure of concern regarding the amount of risk they face on “their side of the meter.” According to Wetmore, the pipe under the causeway is in good shape and relatively new.

However, she says CWS has communicated that it might not be the best idea to rely on a single pipe coming onto the island. Thus, the interest in a second line under the marsh.

That might end up resulting in a cost savings, as the aquifer project could cost as much as $10 million. No word on how much an additional pipe project could cost.

Speaking of money, City Council has received some good news that it is raising $2 million for its rainy-day fund faster than originally expected. That money has been set aside for responses to storms, emergencies, unforeseen projects, or other expenses approved by a council vote.

Goodwin says the quickened pace has got city officials considering asking to expand the fun from $2 million to $3 million. This would be an “especially” rainy-day fund.

That kind of money would come in especially handy if a major storm or hurricane hit during the tourist season and suddenly the lifeblood of municipal tax coffers was severed.

That money could come in handy sooner than expected. The city’s construction moratorium is set to expire in February. The moratorium was created as a “time out” to give the city time to reexamine its building codes and setbacks along the ocean and marsh fronts.

It was not enough time for all the readings and public hearings to be held to permanently change city waterfront construction codes. Those readings and hearings will be held in the weeks afterward.

So, does that mean that those owning waterfront property can run straight out next month and build? Not exactly. All the proposed changes the city has been examining – from setback to septic outflow to seawall construction – will be in place in the “interim” interim time until the full recasting can be completed.

Wetmore, an attorney in her previous career, says the city is relying on existing law that will allow it to enforce the interim changes.

Goodwin defends the move, saying that residents will still have an opportunity to help craft the eventual changes.

Paula Stubblefield lives in a house surrounded by potentially nettlesome issues. She has led an effort to curb waterfront development in vulnerable spots.

“My primary concern is that I would like to see come out of the proposed changes would be the creation of really clear setbacks on the dune management to protect the existing dunes,” she says.

Next, she would like the ordinances to become even clearer on septic tanks and their proximity to the beachfront. “We want to make sure that developers’ use of the beach doesn’t interfere with the public’s use of the beach,” says Stubblefield.

That could, however, expose the city to potentially very expensive “takings” lawsuits should property purchased under the old ordinances could no longer be built on going forward, according to one island realtor.

When the process is completed, Wetmore says the city will take new construction on a case-by-case basis and make the decision of how to handle any “takings” property based on the public will.

One thing for sure, is that the ongoing current renourishment won’t be Folly’s last. “It seems as soon as you finish one, boom, the next day you’re starting the next one,” says Goodwin.

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