By Katy Calloway, Managing Editor for The Island Connection
The Town of Kiawah Island will hold its municipal elections on Tuesday, Dec. 4.
Fran Wermuth withdrew her bid for the Mayor’s seat on Nov. 14, which leaves just one candidate for Mayor and four Councilmember candidates, all uncontested in their respective races. Despite the competition, it’s nice to know where the candidates stand on popular issues, so we extended invitation to them to answer the following three questions. At the time of publication, we had heard from Council candidate Klaus Said.
- In your opinion, what are the three most important issues facing the Town of Kiawah in the next two years?
Craig Weaver, Incumbent Candidate for Mayor
Addressing the challenges (for example, roads, traffic, public safety) that arise from Kiawah’s growth as the island nears build-out and as we, and the surrounding Charleston area, become more popular destinations. Preserving the unique character of Kiawah by protecting the natural environment, and ensuring that, as areas of the island age, we are reinvesting in and maintaining the quality of our public infrastructure and encouraging and making it easier for property owners to maintain and reinvest in their homes. Retaining the residential character of the community – in the past we have balanced being both a residential community and a popular resort/tourist destination, but that balance is shifting as more properties are built for or converted to investment and short-term rental use. It is important that Kiawah retain a strong and growing resident community and that other property uses do not take away from the character of the island.
Maryanne Connelly, Candidate for Council
The three most important issues facing the Town of Kiawah are:
- Development: We must work to protect and preserve the residential nature of Kiawah. It is extremely important to work with the Resort, and Kiawah Development Partners to assure that as they plan use of the last parcels of land in line with the Master Plan. As Council members, we have an obligation to address the concerns of the property owners in this endeavor.
- Public Safety: As the fulltime residential population of Kiawah continues to grow we must assure that the Public Safety resources (Police, Fire and Rescue) are equipped to meet these changing needs. We should continue to evaluate our Emergency Management Systems to assure that a speedy, safe, evacuation process is in place.
- Sea Level Rise: Now is the time to implement some of the recommendations of the Sea Level Rise Report. Road flooding and slow drainage are issues we are very familiar with. As the Town plans improvements to the roads for which it is responsible, suggestions in the Report such recontouring to improve drainage should be evaluated. The Town should also support the report when developing new ordinances.
Dan Prickett, Candidate for Council
The three issues facing Town:
- Planning for the rise in sea level and preparing the Town and its residents for the implications.
- Working with Charleston County, the City of Charleston, and the State of South Carolina on improving the roads, which residents must use to access Kiawah. More must be done to prevent traffic gridlock on these highways.
- Encouraging our partners (KICA, the Resort, the Developer, and Kiawah Conservancy) to work more closely with the Town during the final stages of development on the island. Final stages always have more severe implications for adjoining properties, noise levels, traffic patterns and natural habitats.
Christopher Widuch, Incumbent Candidate for Council
I believe the Town of Kiawah has an important role in maintaining the “brand.” That means attention to our beaches, managing the quality of Town roads and their surrounding aesthetics, and providing the public safety services of law enforcement, fire protection, and emergency medical response. As growth continues to accelerate, the Town needs to stay ahead of the coming changes. We are likely looking at capital improvements to two major Town roads; Beachwalker Drive near the County Park, and the Kiawah Island Parkway from the round-about to the front gate.
The increasing number of rental properties on the island present ongoing challenges. We need to make sure our Short Term Rental Ordinance is modernized to account for the popularity of Airbnb and other internet based channels. Renting through such a model can allow for less on-site property supervision, often resulting in property standards being compromised. I see rental properties with trashcans left out for long periods of time and bicycles and towels strewn all around the yard. The look cheapens the island and compromises the very standard that draws homeowners and visitors alike to Kiawah.
- What action steps, if any, would you recommend the Town of Kiawah take regarding sea level rise?
The just completed Town-sponsored study of this issue has provided a much better understanding of how flooding and sea level changes might affect Kiawah’s infrastructure and natural environment. We have Kiawah-specific findings and recommendations to evaluate, and I expect roads, drainage and our marshes to become our priority concerns. We just initiated a project with the College of Charleston to conduct a detailed mapping of the island and to develop a modeling capability to better predict the impact of rain, tidal and storm surge events on every part on the island. Sea level rise predictions include a degree of uncertainty, so we will ultimately evaluate actions, policies and expenditures in light of what we are actually experiencing and the most accepted scientific thinking at the time.
The action steps I would recommend to the Town of Kiawah regarding Sea Level Rise are.
- Incorporate plans for flooding and sea level rise into the Town’s Comprehensive Development Plan.
- Work with KICA to develop educational programs that provide options to the property owners to help minimize flooding on their property.
- Evaluate storm water management systems on Town property and make improvements as appropriate. Make sure that road maintenance is performed on a regular basis.
Every citizen and Town leader should read and try to understand the issues raised by the September 4, 2018 report on Flood Mitigation and Sea Level Rise Adaptation. The Town should develop a critical path plan that incorporates major and minor changes that must be adopted in order for the Town to survive and remain successful over the next fifty years. These plans, at a minimum, should include infrastructure improvements and modifications, the preservation and expansion of natural barriers, zoning and building code adaptations, and detailed plans for safe evacuations. The cost of these programs will have to be incorporated into capital and other budgets for the Town.
The recent Sea Level Rise (SLR) Report is a big leap forward, providing insight into our potential challenges. One of the primary authors of the report believes the most important contribution the Town can make in the short run is to create a defined path for recommendations to come forward for serious review. I agree.
Beyond creating such a structure, my personal interest tends to navigate towards the impact of SLR on the marsh. I believe SLR poses a serious risk to the health of our marshes, even more so than to our beach front.
- Would you support an ordinance banning single-use plastics and Styrofoam containers to protect the environment? Why or why not?
Not currently, nor without an opportunity for our residents and businesses to weigh in on the merits and implications of a ban. I support the goal of keeping these off our beach, but I am not convinced that passing a new law aimed at Kiawah’s residents and businesses will have the desired benefit, especially when you consider that a great many of the single-use plastic products used by residents and visitors are likely not purchased on Kiawah. I would prefer to see the Town, in concert with other island entities and businesses, pursue a more focused effort to achieve the environment objectives of a plastics ban through voluntary actions, incentives and programs on the island.
Yes, I do support banning single use plastics and styrofoam containers which would help reduce waste and shrink our environmental footprint. One of the Town’s goals is to protect wildlife and their habitat. According to the Center for Biologic Diversity, plastics can choke wildlife and block their stomachs which leads to starvation. 100,000 marine animals are killed annually by plastic bags according to recent research; turtles and dolphins mistake plastic bags for food. Fish intestines are injured by plastic and eventually die. The plastic is transferred up the food chain to bigger fish and marine mammals. Some even ends up in human seafood. The Center research found plastic fibers were identified in fish in a California market. Our seabird population ingests plastics. Single use plastics should be eliminated so that our Natural Maritime setting is preserved and enhanced for current and future generations. One more statistic: it takes 500 years to degrade plastic. There is no reason to encourage the use of single use plastics and Kiawah can support this by banning these products.
I would support such an ordinance after discussing it and understanding its implications for the Resort, the Kiawah Island Club and the business owners at Freshfields Village.
Maybe, but before I would take a position I would want to know the details of the ordinance and I would want to hear from our residents and others on the island.