The Mike Seekings FlexValve

[This column first appeared in the Charleston Post and Courier on 29 April and is reprinted here with the writer’s kind permission.]

bailey-steve-boston-globe

Steve Bailey

On Monday, the heavens opened and the floods came, leaving much of the peninsula under water yet again. A day later City Council raved about a proposal to build a $40 million swimming pool in West Ashley – destined to be known as the Kathleen G. Wilson Aquatic Center.

You couldn’t make this stuff up: Drowning city dreams of mega pool. Here’s what we should be building instead: The John J. Tecklenburg Pump Station. The Mark C. Sanford Jr. Seawall. The Michael S. Seekings FlexValve.

Maybe if we stopped naming highways, ballparks and swimming pools after politicians, we might finally start putting our money where our needs are.

Wilson

proposed Kathleen G. Wilson aquatic center

South Carolina has the fourth largest road system in America, we can’t maintain what we have and yet we are consumed with spending three-quarters of a billion dollars and counting on a new highway certain to disappoint.

Meanwhile, the city sinks and the seas rise. How much will that cost? Who will pay? Who knows? If I-526 is ever completed, it could wind up dumping all that traffic into a tidal basin at the foot of Calhoun Street unless we do something. Imagine the road rage.

Flooding is as old as Charleston itself, but you haven’t seen anything yet. In the 1970s, Charleston experienced an average of two days of tidal flooding a year. In 30 years — a blink of an eye in local history — the city is projected to flood every other day. Don’t believe in global warming? Come to Charleston and walk in our boots.

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Charleston with a 3-foot rise in sea level

Saving Charleston is going to involve big money we don’t have and hard choices we will need to make. Consider: By 2021 the city will have spent $237 milion on drainage since 1990 – and is still only 37 percent through the master plan.

Mayor Tecklenburg has become the champion for I-526. He should instead be the champion for saving the city from the rising seas. Rather than spending the $420 million the State Infrastructure Bank earmarked for a highway that will pave the way for sprawl we don’t want, he should be lobbying to shift as much money as possible to drainage projects.

The city got $88 million from the infrastructure bank to finance its largest drainage project to date — more than half the $154 million it will cost to complete the giant underground tunnels and pump stations across 500 acres that include the Crosstown Expressway.

But we have just begun to pay, and we’re going to need every dollar we can pry loose from Columbia to Washington and here at home. Next up: the even bigger Calhoun West drainage project that will include 600 acres south of the Crosstown to the Battery and the long-delayed rebuilding of the Low Battery seawall. Combined cost: $275 million, maybe more.

After that there is the city’s waterlogged Eastside, Morrison and Lockwood boulevards, West Ashley and beyond. Make no mistake, this is not only about the peninsula — this is a citywide emergency. Just ask the families in West Ashley’s Shadowmoss neighborhood, which floods regularly.

Tecklenburg needs to stop chasing 526 rainbows and work to shift the SIB money to road fixes that will provide a more immediate payback and to drainage projects, starting with Calhoun West, which includes the critical hospital district. It’s about setting priorities.

“As a city we need to refocus on our core mission, and keeping water out of the downtown is a core function,” says Councilman Mike Seekings, one of the most insistent voices in the city about our need to act. “This is what we were elected to do. This is Government 101.”

The sea is rising and the clock is ticking. Time is short. We need real answers on what it is going to cost to save the city and where we are going to get the money. The era of vanity projects is over. An aquatic center makes for a snazzy promotional video, but when the rains come and the tide rises, give me a boring pump station any day.

The sea is rising and the clock is ticking. Time is short. We need real answers on what it is going to cost to save the city and where we are going to get the money. The era of vanity projects is over. An aquatic center makes for a snazzy promotional video, but when the rains come and the tide rises, give me a boring pump station any day.

 

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