Feb 05 2018

Seabrook Island Expects FEMA Payments

By Gregg Bragg, Senior Staff Writer for Island Connection

Seabrook Island Town Council met for the first time in the new year on Jan. 23. Attendance was robust, and has been slowly growing over the last few months. Those present were rewarded with the Town’s usual efficiency. Parliamentary obligations were quickly dispatched, along with three sets of minutes, which included last month’s SITC meeting, a public hearing, and notes from the Ways and Means Committee. Mayor Ciancio opened the financial report by celebrating Seabrook’s balance sheet, which is just shy of $5 million. He fully expects to be able to transfer some $370,000 to the emergency fund, possibly at next month’s STIC meeting. Revenues for December were $48,000 above projections and $161,000 ahead for the year. Expenses were $34,000 higher in December than hoped because of salaries, retirement expenses, and road repair costs, but revenue exceeded expenses for the year by $340,000. Councilmember John Gregg said the club’s long range planning committee didn’t meet in January after all, and skipped to his report on public safety. The Committee met on Jan. 15 and discussed replacing Phillips & Jordan’s standby agreement for storm debris management with a new firm. They also discussed a report developed after hurricane preparedness exercises held on Jan. 10 and 11. Gregg said the disaster recovery team would be called on to review and address action items revealed by the report. Gregg gave an update on claims made to the Federal Emergency Management Agency this month, saying it takes time. He said expenses were generally parsed into two categories; debris removal and emergency preparation.

He described the process and how to submit documentation of losses, which have to be approved. FEMA’s approval of the documentation then kicks off a month long chain of payments, which will eventually end up on Seabrook. Items currently being reviewed for Seabrook by FEMA include;

    1. Additional funds for Matthew debris removal after discovering insurance would not cover removal of a downed tree on municipal grounds.

    2. The utility’s application for additional grants from FEMA, or a “mitigation grant” to help with the much discussed renovations along the main entrance to Seabrook. Councilmember Skip Crane reported meeting with IT consultants at VC3 in an effort to drive more traffic to the Town’s website. He said the contractors would be performing an audit on the site to ensure all the links are working. “If there is no content [dead link] get rid of it, and if we have content that isn’t on the website, get rid of it [the link] until we do,” he said in describing the effort. The first test of traffic to the website could be in the form of Seabrook residents checking the new flood zone maps.

Councilmember John Wells began his report by saying the Accommodations Tax Committee is preparing recommendations for Council review, perhaps as soon as next month. He also put some meat on the bones of funding a wildlife preservation effort in conjunction with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The estimated $10,000 in funding will pay for NOAA staff to visit Seabrook’s beach 2-3 times each week at prime dolphin feeding times for the purpose of education and protection. Approval of the funding will receive a formal hearing at next month’s council meeting. Wells concluded his report by saying two of the eight valves along the parkway had been officially “permitted.”

Newly elected councilmember Jeri Finke didn’t have a report, but publically thanked the mayor for his involvement in addressing the recent propane shortage. Offshore drilling was the lead story in the mayor’s presentation. He shared his own version of “A Brief History of Time” on the matter. To summarize; in 2015 President Obama floated the idea of drilling off the coast of South Carolina. The administration nixed the idea after the first of two public comment periods resulted in near unanimous objection from residents, coastal communities, and concerned groups like the South Carolina Environmental Law Project and Stop Offshore Drilling in the Atlantic. Trump’s administration resurrected the issue seemingly minutes after his taking office last year. The same results from individuals and coastal communities during the first comment period, however, had no effect, other than to exempt Florida from the threat. The next step involves another 60-day public comment period before the administration proceeds on subsequent steps which exclude the public by definition. Mayor Ciancio again found unanimous support from the rest of SITC to join SCELP as a named plaintiff in their efforts to stop both the drilling and seismic testing through litigation. The mayor moved to renew the town’s agreement with Glaser & Co. for audit services through fiscal 2018. He had no complaints about Glaser, but also said it was time to consider using another firm as a matter of good governance.

Mayor Ciancio reminded attendees FEMA had re-examined their flood zone maps last year, and held a series of public hearings on the matter. SITC took an active role in the process because of the ramifications to flood insurance rates paid by Seabrook residents. Information on the final maps will be posted to the town’s website. Ciancio also said Charleston County Building & Services representative Carl H. Simmons would assist residents who wish to appeal.

However, if there are a large number of appeals, SITC will bundle and send them in as a batch. The retirement of Seabrook’s long serving town administrator brought a number of issues to the fore. They were all addressed last fall, but the mayor thought this would be a good time to form an ad hoc committee to shore up the towns’ employee handbook. He called on councilmembers Gregg, Crane, and new Town Administrator Joe Cronin to get a draft to him on or about May 1.

Cronin took time to recognize 19 year Town of Seabrook veteran Lynda Whitworth. She was promoted to Licensing & Permitting Specialist on Jan. 1 because of what the mayor characterized as “the yeoman’s work” she had done, though he wondered aloud if SITC had been guilty of violating child labor laws.

Congratulations, Lynda. Seabrook went through 154 million gallons of water and got 67 inches of rain in 2017 said SIU chairman Jim Bannwart. The utility operated $16,000 in the red during December, however, and experienced plenty of excitement since his last report. Thirty-five residents fell victim to frozen water lines during the Lowcountry blizzard of 2018. SIU responded, and with the help of the community association were able to get everyone squared away. Last week, he said, a contractor cut a 6-inch waterline affecting 35 residents. There was a day without water, and a precautionary “boil water” advisory was issued before the all clear was sounded. Bannwart concluded by reporting SIU had completed installation of a second backup generator, and won approval for a third, expected to be installed later this spring. The legislative agenda had only a first reading of Ordinance 2018-01. The measure will reconcile two disparate pieces; town code which specifies zoning changes going into effect the day after the change, and the map in hall which is designated as the definitive guide to zoning. The measure passed unanimously. Jerry Farber, president of the Seabrook Island Club, announced the retirement of Seabrook Island Real Estate broker in charge, Joe Salvo. He added that 2017 was the best year for Seabrook since the “bubble” of 2005, before introducing Gerri Franchini as the new broker in charge. There being no further citizen’s comments and no further business, the meeting was adjourned. The next meeting of the Seabrook Island Town Council will be Feb. 27 at 2:30 p.m.

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