PALM: Time to take sea-level rise, I-526 planning more seriously

By Fred Palm, special to Charleston Currents  |  The Union of Concerned Scientists study headlined in in the July 12, 2017, edition of The Post and Courier points to a need to act on factoring sea level rise into the county’s long-range capital plan and beyond its present horizon.


The foundation of Charleston’s present and future economy and the elements identified in the Charleston County Comprehensive Plan rests on water as many of the county’s other challenges — traffic, housing affordability, balancing a thriving tourism industry with a high quality of life, economic development etc. — is directly and indirectly affected by flooding, storm surge and in our future, varying estimates of sea level rise.

The Charleston County Planning Commission is currently reviewing the county’s comprehensive plan that will guide decision making in all sectors for the next five to 10 years. The comprehensive plan must provide a look into that immediate future and beyond, by considering various scenarios of rising water, inundation and flooding. Firm guidance needs to be provided in the plan to the capital investors of the governmental and business sectors through the comprehensive plan. Sea-rise plans, capital budgets and comprehensive plans need to be interlinked over the next 18 years. Yes, taxes and bond financing may need to increase.

The Charleston County Comprehensive Plan needs to establish a common framework to better coordinate with the plans of the city of Charleston, Charleston County, the surrounding Lowcountry counties and the state of South Carolina to produce a unified and coherent foundation strategy to address the common challenge. The foundation of the Charleston County’s Comprehensive Plan and those around us must rest on the water.

Communities such as Broward County, Fla., had the same information as Charleston County respecting sea-water rise. They acted and built a survival plan to get in harmony with the sea. Charleston County’s council and planners did not act. Rather they want to move I-526 ahead of funding what will be very large investments, lessening the impact of increased water in our area

County must consider sea-level impacts on I-526 project

Charleston County officials will also need to examine the proposed placement of what will need to be a raised highway and possibly modifying the route of I-526, as its placement can be made part of an effective response to the sea-level rise.

Redesign and overruns inherent to major capital programs are expected and need to be built in. There is a much higher probability of unanticipated “field conditions” arising if you approve the latest ‘all in’ approval. The infrastructure plan and its pro forma financing plan you are asked to approve today is greater than it was before.

Further, the planning assumptions of the proposed I-526 do not factor in projected sea rise and the need to engineer a roadbed that transitions to a higher sea level elevation that may be required, lest the investment be abandoned. The current environmental review assessment of impacts is invalid as well.

To bind the county to promise to pay for a road from just a credit rating is pure fiscal foolishness and does a great disservice, bordering on fiscal negligence, if the county’s new foreseeable capital spending requirements are not scoped out.

Charleston is growing and who wants to shut off the spigot of new arrivals with bad news and increased fees to pay for addressing the obvious? We should seek elected leaders with an eye to the future and the needs of the entire population present and future. Moreover, committing huge sums of money to build out I-526 on the county’s credit rating diverts money that is now needed to address this huge sea level rise projects.

Fred Palm of Edisto Island is a retired professor of oversight and investigations at the John Jay College School of Public Management and a former executive director of the Association of Inspectors General.

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  1. I agree completely!

  2. Paul Luman says:

    Moreover, committing huge sums of money to build out I-526 is now needed !