Between Ian and Idalia, resilience plans take shape – Coastal Observer


Between Ian and Idalia, resilience plans take shape

Sandbags protect a sewer lift station from flooding in front of the old Town Hall on Pawleys Island.

Georgetown County delayed replacing three walkways at Litchfield Beach destroyed by Hurricane Ian 10 months ago because there was no place for the contractor to stage equipment during the summer tourist season. So those walkways weren’t at risk from the storm surge expected to coincide with king tides as the remnants of Hurricane Idalia swept over South Carolina this week.

Other places were keeping a watch on the storm  track, the tide chart and the rain gauge.

The town of Pawleys Island just replanted sand dunes and replaced sand fence. It also completed repairs to a stairway in Town Hall that flooded last fall.

The Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire District just reopened its station at Garden City that was flooded by Ian.

Between Ian and Idalia, both Georgetown County and the town of Pawleys Island have completed resiliency plans required by state law to be part of their comprehensive plans. Both are awaiting final approval. Each takes its cue from the state Office of Resilience, which is defined as “the ability of communities, economies and ecosystems to anticipate, absorb, recover and thrive when presented with environmental change and natural hazards.”

For Pawleys Island, the top goal is to prepare for storm events and flooding. It completed a sea level adaptation plan last year and received $250,000 in the state budget this year to help address flooding. 

The town is trying to decide whether to use the funds to complete actual projects, such as installing backflow preventers in pipes that drain stormwater into Pawleys Creek, or to develop designs for larger projects that can help leverage funds for “shovel ready” projects.

“There’s a lot of opportunity,” Mayor Brian Henry said at a recent Town Council meeting.

He favors some combination of the two approaches.

“So many communities have capital improvement plans that end up doing nothing,” Council Member Rocky Holliday said. “I think we have to be cautious.”

Even as Idalia developed in the Gulf of Mexico, the town was warning property owners to prepare for this week’s king tides. To mitigate the impact of “nuisance flooding” caused by rising seas, the town has discussed raising the level of the roads and creating “living shorelines.”

The town’s resilience plan calls for ordinances to encourage “green infrastructure” and regulate the use of hard structures such as bulkheads.

Georgetown County’s plan recommends hiring a resilience coordinator to work with state and federal agencies as well as the municipalities. The coordinator would also lead a working group to help set goals and assess progress.

The plan also recommends the county improve protections for wetlands and trees as ways to reduce flooding and find ways to “guide growth away from high-risk locations.”

“It’s much more robust than what we had originally gotten,” said Pam Martin, a professor at Coastal Carolina University and executive director of the Georgetown RISE sustainable development program. In addition to working on the county plan, she was a member of the advisory council for the resilience plan that the state completed this year.

What the plans need is a common set of benchmarks for measuring progress, Martin said.

“It’s good to have recommendations, but being able to identify indicators by which we can measure our progress and have good conversations around data would make things very clear to the public,” she said. “It would be great if the counties and the state could work together and we all measure the same things.”

And those things don’t have to be complex. They could be as simple as beach walkways.

“That’s a fantastic indicator,” Martin said. They have to be replaced after every major storm. “How much are we spending?”

That’s an area where Pawleys Island can measure progress. After the First Street beach access was destroyed by Hurricane Ian, the town decided to replace it with a $5,500 plastic Mobi-mat rather than a $30,000 wooden walkway.

The mat can be rolled up and moved before a storm. The town hasn’t had to do that, because it only just received a state permit to install the mat. It’s stored under Town Hall.

Another measure would be a stormwater plan like the one Georgetown County adopted last year for the Waccamaw Neck. “How much are we spending? Where are we having flooding?” Martin said.

The county has a $2.9 million federal grant to fund drainage improvements along Highway 17 in Litchfield. County Council awarded an $877,000 contract last week for Woolpert Inc. to engineer and manage the project. It must be completed by December 2025.

Storms like Idalia help focus attention on resiliency.

“We do need events like this,” Martin said. “It reminds us of what people call climate change, an existential threat. It’s a threat now.”



Georgetown County Board of Education: First and third Tuesdays, 5:30 p.m., Beck Education Center. For details, go to Georgetown County Council: Second and fourth Tuesdays, 5:30 p.m., Council Chambers, 129 Screven St., Georgetown. For details, go to Pawleys Island Town Council: Second Mondays, 5 p.m. Town Hall, 323 Myrtle Ave. For details, go to   , .