South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

Florence, the Environment and Accountability
Posted: October 12, 2018

The recent storms garnered much local and national media coverage, with one message emerging from the tragedy and ruin left behind by Hurricanes Florence and Michael: We are not prepared to cope with the mess unleashed by major storms in a rapidly changing climate.

Every month, we share with friends and supporters a e-newsletter covering recent developments in our cases and issues all over the state. The last two issues included some important considerations, including the following excerpts. Want to join the conversation? Sign up now!

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Real Hurricane Preparedness (from the August E-News)

Reversing traffic on I-26 and U.S. 501, prematurely or not, falls short of comprehensive and meaningful measures to minimize and protect against storm impacts. The list of self-imposed, avoidable environmental hazards created by increasingly frequent storm flooding is impressive in itself: manure lagoons, coal ash ponds, toxic and nuclear landfills, all spiced up by crumbling dams and roads. But the ongoing encroachment into flood plains, irresponsible clear-cutting, and wetland filling are pushing us to a totally predictable outcome: roads, houses and businesses are built in precarious locations where entire communities are at increased risk of flooding and marooning.

Admittedly, fixing flooding in coastal urban settings is a complex and costly challenge, but proactively addressing flooding in undeveloped areas could be much easier if we stopped clear-cutting forests and paving over wetlands. Residential and commercial development, and the infrastructure needed to support it, must stop ignoring the dangers of destroying our natural flood buffers (which is exactly what the proponents of the I-73 boondoggle fail to understand). Otherwise the costs and devastation will continue to increase with every new storm. Time for state-level action? To be sure.

Not Insanity, But Unaccountability (from the September E-News)

Recent developments reminded us of a famous definition of insanity: repeating the same thing over and over and expecting different results. In a matter of days, we witnessed the revival of two boondoggle zombie projects - the development of Captain Sams Spit and the I-526 extension. We touch on Judge Anderson's latest antics below and trust that saner decisions will ultimately prevail on transportation and adaptation needs around Charleston. But the most outlandish display of (bad) business as usual in the days after Florence came from Horry County, courtesy of Mike Wooten and the County Council (honorable mention for Mr. Di Sabato.)

In securing yet another dubiously timed rezoning for a 1,300-unit residential sprawl project, and warming up for another 1,600-unit development near International Drive, Mr. Wooten had the guts to testify that the site of the proposed new development (a fully forested 500+ acres adjacent to a Longs subdivision that was under feet of water just days before - see telling video by Live Storm Media) will not flood, because it did not so with Florence.

Yet, Wooten and his peers are far from insane as they precisely expect the same outcome over and over: pocketing fat profits at the public's expense and getting away with it without consequence! Unfortunately the legal system is working in their favor, whether by obsolete and biased defense of property rights (what about the affected homeowners' rights?) or by highly bureaucratized and inefficient land use regulation and enforcement, which somehow never stops the Wootens of the state from clear-cutting, building in floodplains, and putting thousands of existing and prospective homeowners (and taxpayers) in harm's way.

Since voting them out often leads only to changing the roles in the same plays, suing them is increasingly the public's last resort. While one can reasonably predict a surge in flood-related tort litigation, the public interest in conservation and environmental protection is not without remedy as we can leverage pressure points to make sure that those in or with power are held accountable and start behaving accordingly.

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The development site shown on the right is one of the finished subdivisions flooded by Buck Creek (on the left) in Longs, SC, along the US-905 corridor, as documented by the great drone footage from Live Storm Media.

Just across US-905 from the same site, the 550+ acres of forest rezoned for a 1,300-unit development on October 2 by Horry County Council