South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

SC conservation groups challenge Long Savannah development, say it will worsen flooding
June 11th, 2020

By Michelle Liu, Associated Press

Conservation groups in South Carolina are challenging a 3,000-acre 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 object that the Long Savannah community development in the West Ashley would affect more than 200 acres 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 last week for the state board of the Department of Health and Environmental 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 S.C. 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.

Long Savannah is one of the largest developments in the city of Charleston’s history. Work on the project stalled following the deep 2008 recession. The city’s development agreement allows Long Savannah to build up to 4,500 homes.

Developer Taylor Bush said the project will also include a 1,628-acre public park and an agreement that protects nearly 1,900 acres 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 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 percent of the project area lies within the Church Creek drainage basin.

Different types of wetlands help absorb water when it rains, and many of them have been lost to developments in the past two decades in West Ashley. Since 2001, new neighborhoods and buildings have paved over more than 2,000 acres naturally equipped to absorb water, the equivalent of about 80 football fields per year, according to the West Ashley Master Plan.

The Post and Courier contributed to this report.

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