Nov 03 2016

Seabrook Island Town Council Learns Valuable Lessons From Hurricane Matthew

By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Staff Writer

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Hurricanes can generate all manner of things; tidal surges, torrential rain, floods, ferocious winds, thunder, and lightning. The way they thrash us is frightening, but who knew they could produce time… in the form of minutes. Seabrook Island Town Council approved six sets of meeting transcripts to open its Oct. 25 assembly, many of which were courtesy of hurricane Matthew.

Council wasted no time, however, and quickly moved on to the financial report for the previous month. September’s report was as positive (in terms of revenue) as August’s was tepid.

The local option tax, which had fallen short during last month’s report, came through in spades for September (e.g. reported in October). The windfall was accompanied by upticks in the accommodations tax as well as class 8 business licenses. The three factors combined to put the town nearly $73,000 over estimates for the month.

Seabrook spent $9,000 more than they hoped on road maintenance and tourism in September but has still spent $62,000 less than budgeted. SITC continues to spend less and produce more than during the same period last year, and is $382,000 ahead of budget for 2016.

Councilmember John Gregg was first to deliver committee reports, and started by saying the long range planning committee had been cancelled due to the hurricane. His statement was the perfect segue into the public safety committee report which included a number of issues brought into stark relief by Matthew.

Front and center was a draft of the “right of entry” document. The treatise specifies who is allowed back on the island and when (e.g. contractors clearing debris could be allowed on before residents, for example). The progress comes in the wake of successful negotiations with the community association (SIPOA).

Consideration was also given to access roads to the utility site, but public safety determined access to SIPOA roads would be sufficient to assist the utility with clearing their lift stations. Public safety, Gregg continued, has designed a refrigerator magnet with emergency numbers listed prominently for easy access. Committee members were also introduced to the newest recently approved member. Ed Maher officially replaced the retiring Bottcher for a term to expire in November 2017, and will join in the committee’s review of lessons learned from Matthew.

Councilmember John Turner was back and reported a solution may have been found to handheld radios interfacing with equipment at town hall. More testing will be required and reports will be updated as appropriate. He concluded his report by saying the beach buoys, used to mark dog on/off leash boundaries require attention, and professional help is on the way.

Councilmember John Wells reported on two items. He said George Engineering Associates (the firm selected to resolve drainage issues along the parkway) had lost three days to Matthew, but are back at work. He reiterated the task force is meeting bi-weekly, and expects the time will be made up. Drawings of easements are nearing completion and a report will be available at the next meeting of SITC.

Wells concluded his report saying three applications for ATAX money have been received. “They are the same three as last year,” he said, adding he didn’t expect there to be any problems with approvals.

Responding to a question from the mayor, he concluded his remarks by saying the details would be hashed out in plenty of time to be included in SITC’s budget process, due to begin next month.

Councilmember Crane was particularly brief. He reported SIPOA is expediting repairs, and conducting its deer survey. He concluded by saying both Camp St. Christopher and the Marina had come through the storm with only minor damage.

We dodged a bullet” said Mayor Ciancio, referring to Hurricane Matthew as he began his comments. The fact the storm weakened to a category 1 as it approached the Lowcountry should not diminish calls to evacuate, contended the mayor. “There are a number of lessons learned we will have to incorporate into our comprehensive emergency plan,” he said before thanking everyone who had a hand in Seabrook’s survival;

1. Every member of town council executed their assignments perfectly

2. Tommy Weston, manager of the utility, worked all weekend and keep things running

3. Berkeley Electric Cooperative made a number of tough decisions but kept us in the loop every step of the way. We were probably on the phone with them 2-3 times each day.

4. Charleston County Sheriffs patrolled the island and St. Johns Fire district not only helped but also contained a fire at Bohicket Sunday after the storm.

5. SIPOA, led by Heather Patton, has worked tirelessly to clear debris.

The mayor then welcomed Randy Pierce back to work after a leave of absence. The Mayor returned Randy’s town administrator/zoning administrator duties and turned the mic over to the very healthy looking chief of staff. Pierce presided over a request to extend the building permit for 3109 Marsh Gate.

Turns out the time it takes to build a 6,000 sq./ft. home is hard to predict, and the extension was granted without debate.

Tim Morawski began his report on the utility by noting several meetings had been cancelled, but operations were back to normal after the storm. “There was some damage and it will be added to the budget but overall, we did well. He concluded his report by stating the submersible pumps had been a good investment of federal funds, saving the utility from further storm exposure. The single item of new business was a first reading of ordinance 2016-09.

The measure will rezone 2806 Seabrook Island Parkway and 2450 Bateau Trace as conservation easements. The measure passed without debate, and marked the beginning of citizens comments.

Seabrook resident Sue Holloman expressed alarm at the estimated 25-100 people, who stayed on the island for the storm. “This is not the sort of thing we want to encourage,” she said before asking the mayor to collaborate with SIPOA to draft a letter to residents asking them to honor evacuation requests. Holloman further asked the mayor to manage expectations adding “[we were lucky] to come back as early as we did. [Tell them] not to assume it [returning to the island] will always be this fast.”

Cliff Montgomery took the baton and said he had moved to Seabrook four days before the storm hit. He was thrilled and relieved to see St. Johns Fire District personnel making their rounds on the island. Montgomery is a Harley rider and went on to ask if SITC would consider allowing people “point to point” access to ride from their home on and off the island.

The mayor told Montgomery the idea had been considered twice in the past and was rejected overwhelmingly both times.

SIPOA board member Phil Squire had some questions for councilmember Wells about road repairs outside the gate.

He asked if the road would be widened and/or raised. Wells thought both were possibilities but added a note of caution.

Last year’s storm was 8’ and there’s not enough money in Texas to make it storm proof.” There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned.

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