SC Mayor’s Perspective on Flood: One Time Event? Or Wake Up Call?

Guest Blog | October 13, 2015 | Climate Change, Extreme Weather

This guest post, by Billy Keyserling, Mayor of Beaufort, SC, originally appeared in his October 9 newsletter. SACE applauds Mayor Keyserling and the Beaufort/Port Royal Sea Level Rise Task Force for the important initial steps they are taking to plan for the reality of climate change impacts.

Beaufort, SC Mayor Billy Keyserling

It appears the stars were aligned to create a “one time” flooding event that brought dreadful pain and havoc to many across out state. While I wish this was the case, I do not think this was a one time event, a 500 year event or a 1000 year event. Rather I think it may very well be a wake up call or preview of what the future may look like.

While my heart and prayers (and water to those who needed it) goes out to the many families who suffered and those still struggling to get back into their homes and return to work I believe this event gives us time to take pause and think about the future as we continue to help those need.

While fortunately Beaufort did not get awash like Charleston, Columbia, Sumter and other communities throughout South Carolina, we did see significant inundation not unlike what scientists tell us could be the impact of rising sea levels.

For example, had the hurricane come ashore during the already threatening event caused by unusual high tides, the storm surge could have been significantly higher starting on the base water level which was literally several feet above the norm.

The more I learn, I continue to believe even more strongly that rising sea levels are likely the largest infrastructure challenge the next generation faces, though we currently continue to focus on infrastructure including more roads for evacuation from places that may one day not even exist.

By no means do I want to frighten anyone to suggest the sky will fall in next week, next year or even in the next decade or more, but I have met with professionals from the scientific community for the past six months and the more I listen and learn, the more I believe there is a real threat in the future. The good news is that if we begin to study our vulnerabilities and develop plans, I believe the problem is solvable. But it will take time and money over a period of years to truly understand the effect and develop plans to become more resilient.

Beaufort, the only City in SC that has a community initiated all volunteer Sea Level Rise Task Force, is ahead of the game. As the tides rose, members were out confirming what they call the hot spots or most vulnerable places where inundation could occur. I am hoping we will find the resources to begin costing out engineering, from foundations or federal grants, to fully understand the risks and the answers for the future.

The week before last I was asked to talk with planners and disaster preparedness officials from Horry and Georgetown Counties whose municipalities and counties are not focusing on this near or far term challenge. I bet there will be more interest after the lessons of this week though I am so sorry it took what it did to get their attention. I have since heard from some of the participants and referred them to the experts, because I am not an expert and likely will never be an expert.

Later this month I will serve on a panel of Mayors convening in New Hampshire to raise awareness of the challenges of sea level rise. Thanks to the Task Force, Beaufort is on the map which is why they reached out and asked me to speak.

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