By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Staff Writer
Seabrook residents began gathering at town hall an hour earlier than the normally scheduled town council meeting. Congressman Sanford’s office sent a representative to meet with residents in the conference room on February 28. The one on one meetings were as quiet as the public hearing held five minutes prior to the town council meeting regarding ordnance 2017- 01. The measure would rezone two properties from single family residences to conservation easement, transfer the property first to the green space conservancy and ultimately to the Seabrook Island Property Owners Association (SIPOA). The council meeting itself began a couple minutes early, and would need the extra time for a longer than customary meeting. Financials for the month of January showed a spectacular $450,000 surplus.
Approximately $400,000 of the windfall was attributable to a carryover of last year’s savings, however, and was transferred from the general fund to special projects in short order. Expenses for the month were also down by $28,000. The mayor dismissed the result to timing issues which would flush out in due course.
Councilmember John Gregg informed attendees the club’s long range planning committee had not met during the month of February and had yet to schedule a meeting for March. Recent elections for both SIPOA and the Seabrook Island Club (SIC) resulted in a change of management. A new chairman of the SIC means a date for March’s meeting of the long range planning committee has not been selected.
The public safety committee met on Feb. 6 said Gregg. The hot topic discussed was establishing priorities for clearing roads in the event a disaster covered them with debris.
Tommy West, Seabrook Island Utility (SIU) manager with Hawthorne Services, and Chief Gilcrease (STFD) attended, and agreed clearing lift stations vital to the functioning of the utility should be the first priority.
Gregg also said the number of action items from January’s disaster recovery team exercise resulted in several action items which would be discussed in a meeting to be scheduled for April.
Gregg then provided an update on reimbursement for Matthew damage from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). He said the project worksheets have been received and distributed to counsel, and included close to $95,000 in funds being requested. He cautioned that the back and forth between FEMA and Seabrook was not an indication of approval, but part of an ongoing process with the ultimate grant based on the request.
Gregg also announced Seabrook would be hosting disaster awareness day for the third consecutive year at the SIC clubhouse with his characteristic aplomb. He brought it up because $6,000 is needed to cover expenses. Although he hopes to get $1.5k back from the Town of Kiawah Island (TOKI), Gregg thought it best to have enough money on hand, instead of waiting for reimbursement. Last year’s installment was a triumph, characterized by Seabrook’s customary efficiency, plenty of door prizes, raffles, and “the all-important free lunch. Did y’all hear me? Free lunch” said Gregg with familiar enthusiasm, but not in all caps the way he has in the past. However, the event is scheduled for June so he will have plenty of time to raise his voice as the big day approaches. “Participation from Seabrook residents has always been better when we hold it here.” concluded Gregg.
Councilmember John Turner reported a visit from Janet Thibault, a wildlife biologist with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR), to count Piping Plovers. He said the trips can last five to six hours, but on this occasion team DNR did not notice many of the fowl. Two pieces of good news included the fact DNR did not see any dogs where they shouldn’t be, and complimented the new buoys, which mark the boundaries of the feeding area.
Turner said Thibault encouraged residents to participate. However, the trips are usually scheduled at the last minute. Turner said he would do his best to coordinate with Charlie Moore, chair of the Seabrook Island Birders.
Councilmember John Wells began his report by speaking about roads. He said Bob George Engineering has been busy coordinating several items including; profiling the Seabrook Island Parkway to see if it meets the 6.1 feet height common to Charleston County and was costing out the improvement, assessing the existing stormwater drainage system as a baseline, and checking with OCRM to verify which flapper gates need repairs noting one of them would have to be moved entirely. Seabrook attorney Mr. Brown was busy checking on easements associated with the project and expects to be done by the end of March. The design phase will follow and it is hoped ponding can be eliminated.
Councilmember Skip Crane reported the erosion at dock “D” of the marina has been studied for six months after a sinkhole developed. Immediate attention was needed and consulting firm Chamber and Associates built a consensus for the damage and the required corrective actions. Nick McPherson, manager of Bohicket Marina expects three weeks to complete the project. Crane also reported the town is setting up a collection point for worn flags so they can properly be disposed of.
Crane continued his report by talking about the new FEMA flood maps. Flood zone designations are revised based on new, more accurate information used to to update flood hazard maps across the country as needed to remain current with changes in conditions.
FEMA uses these maps to determine the amount property owners in flood prone areas pay for flood insurance. There are currently three open houses scheduled from 2 to 7 p.m. starting on March 20th. The first will be held in North Charleston at the Lonnie Hamilton III public service building on March 20. March 21 will see a meeting in West Ashley held at the CE Williams Middle School, and the meeting on March 22 will be held at Mount Pleasant’s Alhambra Hall.
Crain said the meetings were designed as workshops, would provide personal feedback, and would be the only chance to give and get comments from FEMA. Complete schedules and addresses are available at town hall.
Crane also reported meeting with Lou Hammond Group on their 2017 proposal to advertise for Seabrook. The plan includes fixes to the town’s web site and features a travel writer to highlight Seabrook’s allure. He said a link is available to the proposal plan.
The Charlotte Observer and Atlanta Journal Constitution newspapers will be leveraged, along with the periodicals Southern Living, Southbound, Travel, and South Park – a magazine prevalent in Charlotte’s affluent south side. Goals for the project include an audit of (complete) and repairs to the town’s website, and replying to 1.1 million unanswered requests for information received in the course of last year. The resulting request for just over $86,000 ($7,000 less than expected) passed unanimously.
SIPOA board member Phil Squire asked how the success of the advertising campaign would be measured. The mayor responded saying visitors will be asked how they heard about Seabrook when they arrive. The mayor added the campaign was paid for with Accommodations Tax money, which has to be spent on this sort of promotion, and he is confident it is a good investment for the island.
Mayor Ron Ciancio began his report by mentioning the town would be assisting residents streamline their waits at the airport. Seabrook will be working with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to pre-check residents allowing them to use shorter security lines at the airport for the same low price charged onsite. Complete details are available at town hall.
The mayor expressed grave concern with two bills (H.3650 & H.3651, he said) currently before the state legislature. The bills would effectively allow the state to co-opt collection of licensing fees currently gathered by the town. Ciancio said similar bills have been proffered in the past, but this time the idea seemed to be gaining unwanted traction.
Seabrook derives as much as 50 percent of its funding from business licenses. He warned the state’s involvement would consume the entirety of Seabrook’s excess 2017 budget (e.g. the lifeblood of Seabrook’s emergency fund). The mayor will be keeping an eye on this threat and will advise on actions as needed.
Tim Morawski said the utility was still haunted by their new billing system and had no real financials to report. He expects shortened billing cycles will be employed to rectify the problem, and hopes the issue will be resolved early this summer. He also hinted at some staffing changes with Hawthorne, but did not elaborate.
The sole piece of legislation on the agenda was Ordinance 2017-01. The measure to rezone 1196 Oyster Catcher and 3234 Middle Dam from Single Family Residential District to Agricultural-Conservation District passed unanimously.
Andrea Tuccillo added some excitement to citizen’s comments. Tuccillo is a board member of the Courtside 1 regime. She thanked council for scheduling a Planning Commission hearing of a proposal to add lights to tennis and pickle ball courts adjacent to the densely populated area. Both Courtside 1 & 2 regimes oppose the 30 year old plan, which was originally platted for the opposite, less populated end of the island.
Tuccillo wondered why now, and asked if it was even necessary, given the overlap of summer daylight and the 9:30 p.m. cutoff of power specified in the proposal. Mayor Ciancio assured Tuccillo there would be a full inquiry. There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned.