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May 10 2017

Seabrook Island Town Council Discusses FEMA Reimbursement

By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Staff Writer

The mayor wondered aloud if the agenda for Seabrook Island’s April 24 town council meeting had been posted in accordance with the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Faye Albritton assured him it had, and council got right to work approving two sets of meeting minutes; the first for last month’s council meeting, and another for the Ways and Means committee.

Financials for the month of March were as positive as ever. The mayor said revenues were up over $15,676 for last month, the result of higher than expected local option sales tax. However, those revenues were down $4,000 from the same time last year because of some variety in the rate of business license applications. Expenses were $47,000 under budget for the month because of the timing on some interest payments, but also because of lower expenses on advertising and roads projects, which will return later. Expenses are running $31,000 higher than last year at this time because of road related expenses, and $54,000 less for the current year than planned, so far.

Council member John Gregg said the club’s long range planning committee met on the 13 of April. Members made a presentation of their most recent survey, and voted to accept seven of ten recommendations including; a shorter survey for 2017, reaching out to nonresident owners, and rewards for participation. Participation in this year’s survey could earn participants a “minor” reward and enroll them for a larger annual prize.

Gregg said the public safety committee met on the 10 of April to review changes to the comprehensive emergency response plan. The changes have been forwarded to consultant Scott Cave, who will update the plan (for review by council) with an expected delivery date in May. Gregg then made a motion to renew the town’s stand-by contract for debris removal with Phillips and Jordan [purveyors of the coveted Hurricane Habanero Hot Sauce “Are you prepared?”].

Seabrook originally signed a three year “as needed” contract with Phillips and Jordan in 2013, which included two optional one year extensions. The last of the cost free extensions options is due in September of this year, and the motion passed unanimously.

The disaster recovery council will hold their next exercises on the sixth and seventh of June, said Gregg. The dates were selected to dovetail with hurricane exercises being conducted by the county on the seventh.

He then reported the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had approved three of five “obligations to reimburse” to Seabrook. The estimated payment somewhere north of $63,000 will be routed through the State before it reaches Seabrook It represents a 75 percent rate of reimbursement to the town, he said. Those comments left only Disaster Awareness Day to mention.

Gregg makes the event sound more carnival like than a matter of an “eating your vegetables” type of meeting. Seabrook will host Disaster Awareness Day for the third consecutive year on June 15, at the Seabrook Island Club from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. There are special prizes for the first ten people to arrive, door prizes for everyone, vendors with displays/information/gifts (including Hurricane Habanero Hot Sauce), raffles throughout the day, and all the information you need to prepare for hurricane season delivered by the professionals tasked with developing those plans in the first place. And “free lunch,” said Gregg, again.

Council member Skip Crane had a very brief report this month, and wasn’t risking

any uncertainty. “Is lunch [at Disaster Awareness Day] free,” he asked, incredulous.

The entire day is free and lunch is included in that charge, which is [free],” boomed Gregg to appreciative chuckles.

Crane, still completely straight faced, told council he had attended the first meeting of the property owners association to feature video conferencing for the benefit of remote property owners.

Council member John “Jodi” Turner reported a team from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) visited a “few days ago.” They checked lines delineating the roosting area for shore birds, and said they were happy with the signage and buoys, and did not witness any instances of people rousting flocks, Turner told council. He said DNR did express some concern about bikes alarming Red Knots and reported DNR’s relief upon hearing about an embellished beach patrol. Turner also said Coastal Science and Engineering completed their beach survey with mixed news.

Seabrook’s east end accreted sand, while the west side showed erosion. He recommended what he characterized as the familiar solution of scraping excess sand and moving it to where it was needed. He finished with confirmation the property owners association has already started the permitting process.

Turner also reported a successful test of the town portable radios. Cutting the LED lights in town hall took the interference with it, but he has also worried about the patchwork nature of the radios. Turner wants consistent equipment capable of seamlessly communicating with the town, beach patrol, sheriff’s office, and county officials. He is preparing a requisition for the next Ways and Means committee meeting for their consideration.

Council member John Wells gave an update on the accommodations tax committee. The forms to apply for 2018 funds will soon be online. “People that applied last year can possibly use the same form they used in 2017, but we’re reviewing that,” said Wells.

The mayor cautioned that next year’s budget was still just an idea, that grants amounts were not known, and advised the committee to manage expectations accordingly. Wells acknowledged the observation, and added his assumption the committee would be treating this more as a pre-qualification process.

Wells went on to talk about Ocean and Coastal Resource Management’s efforts to review solutions to flooding along Seabrook Island Road. The decision pending at this point is how many flapper gates need to be replaced versus how many can be repaired.

Permits can’t be issued until the scope of the project is known. June has been targeted as the completion date. Attorney Brown, meanwhile, is examining easements along the construction route to facilitate permitting.

The mayor’s report began with a general status of beach patrol. Seabrook has used off-duty sheriffs for the longest time, which produced three problems for the town; they are always subject to calls and it is possible Seabrook could be left without coverage, they are not qualified in water rescue, and they are not allowed to write citations for Seabrook.

The town bid out the beach patrol contract, and Island Beach Services won it for the period from May 1, 2017 to April 30 of 2018.

Seabrook will pay twice as much as they used to, but found a way to solve all three of its problems, and will get better coverage in the bargain.

Seabrook resident Jim Dobson was in law enforcement before moving to the island last year. He chimed into the mayor’s report and objected to the idea of beach patrol enforcing town ordinances. The mayor appreciated the input but said the options seemed clear, and reminded attendees the one year contract would be monitored.

The mayor then commented on Hilton Head (HH). Seabrook is looking for advice on dealing with FEMA, with its reputation for reluctance to reimburse for private roads (e.g. behind gates). Kiawah, for example, had their FEMA request denied. HH, on the other hand, is 80 percent private and got FEMA reimbursement faster than most of their neighbors. Mayor Ciancio wants to learn what he can about how they managed it.

Jim Bannwart was back and looking fine for the utility report this month. He said operations have been normal but billing still isn’t. January and February financials produced a net positive, but no March finances are available. On-going work is smoothing out the billing system and should be completed in the May time frame. “Tests” completed last year make it possible for the utility to accrue more debt/borrow more money, if additional equipment is needed.

Bannwart also reported Louis Berger Co. has acquired Hawthorne, the contractors currently running the town’s utility. Changes could include some staff relocating to Greenville and/or hiring others locally.

Heather Patton, COO of the property owners group (SIPOA) said Legare Farms contacted them about bringing a mobile farmers market to Seabrook. They asked to come to the Lake House once a week.

SIPOA declined the offer, but thought the town might care to host outside the gate. Phone calls were agreed to.

Jim Dobson was ready for citizen’s comments and broached the issue of Seabrook’s leash laws. He said measurements prove the area where dogs are allowed isn’t as big as advertised and questioned leash hours and areas quite passionately. You could see several on council deflate as John Turner talked about the tenuous settlement reached on the island seven years ago between competing interests of the Sea-dogs and Seabrook Birders group.

Existing leash laws were formed around a number of factors including; Seabrook is Audubon certified in part because it set the ends of the island aside as sanctuary sites for the endangered Piping Plover, parts of the beach are a nesting ground for endangered Loggerhead turtles, permits for beach re-nourishment are contingent on setting these preserves aside.

The mayor stepped in to say without significant public interest, he would hesitate to re-open the old wound, but continued the dialogue with his elector long after the meeting had adjourned.

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