By Gregg Bragg , The Island Connection Staff Writer
The agenda for the May 22 assembly of Seabrook Island Town Council looked shorter than recentiterations. This concision breathed life into the long whispered and elusive goal of the 30-minute council meeting. Mayor Ciancio would have to circle back to approve two sets of meeting minutes, after skipping them in his enthusiasm to deliver his financial report. The financial report for April was another positive for Seabrook’s streak.
The mayor said revenues were $4,000 above estimates for the month, the resultof a strong showing from category VII business license applications. April’s deposit puts SITC $41,000 ahead for the year and $22,000 ahead of this time last year. Expenditures also displayed guardedly good news. SITC spent $41,000 less in April ($237,000 less for the year) than expected. Much of the savings can be attributed to delays in determining requirements to repair drainage along the Seabrook Island Parkway. SITC has spent less because it expected to be paying for actual repairs by now, warned the mayor.
Councilmember John Gregg said the club’s long range planning committee met on the May 11. Members decided results of the 2017 survey would be parsed out to focus groups in an effort to get better results.
Gregg said the Public Safety Committee met on the May 15 to review changes to the comprehensive emergency response plan. Consultant Scott Cave has made updates, and the draft is available to SITC officials. It was decided that making it electronically available through the town’s website was adequate distribution.
Gregg followed up on last month’s motion to renew the town’s stand-by contract for debris removal with Phillips and Jordan. Seabrook originally signed a three year “as needed” contract with Phillips and Jordan in 2013, which included two optional one-year extensions. SITC voted to continue the contract, but Gregg since discovered SITC needs a Department of Health and Environmental Control permit to operate a debris site. Because SITC leases the site and hasn’t had occasion to use it, there hasn’t been an issue. However, Gregg is moving ahead with the permitting process; the entire “ready if you need it plan” could unravel without permits already in place.
The disaster recovery council will hold its next exercises June 6 and 7, said Gregg. The dates were selected to dovetail the hurricane exercises being conducted by the county on June 7, built around “pre-landfall preparations.” He then reported the Federal Emergency Management Agency had approved two of three “obligations to reimburse” to Seabrook from the last hurricane. 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, but does not include another $6,000 (the third “obligation”) filed in conjunction with damages to the utility,he said. Those comments left only Disaster Awareness Day to mention.
“Free Lunch!,” said Gregg, is just one part of what makes DAD on Seabrook the event of the season. Seabrook will host the event 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, 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.
Councilmember John Turner had a lengthy report after last month’s environmental committee meeting. Front and center, again, was the topic of offshore drilling. Washington has reanimated the zombie of drilling off the coast of Seabrook. “We considered not taking a separate action so close to our (last official objection filed in 2015), but this new proposal is even worse than the previous proposal and the committee decided to ask the town for another official objection,” said Turner.
No Drill South Carolina is a group originally formed in 2015 to contest the idea of offshore drilling. Its unified push called on each and every coastal municipality to write letters to state officials condemning the practice. Former Seabrook Mayor Terry Ahearn famously voted contrary to his personal feelings and led the charge against offshore drilling then. This time (2017) Seabrookwould be among the first coastal towns to join a growing list. Mayor Ron Ciancio would lead a unanimous vote to object to offshore drilling, and verbally listed those officials who would be receiving SITC’s written objections.
Turner is still worried about the patchwork nature of the radios being used for emergency responses on the island.
He wants consistent equipment capable of seamlessly communicating with the town, beach patrol, sheriff’s office and county officials. Turner is now asking the Property Owner’s Association and Community Emergency Response Team for assistance with the radios. He also needs CERT and POA volunteers to join the county’s Emergency Operations Center in North Charleston, so Seabrook has a liaison within this vital emergency response organization.
Councilmember John Wells gave an update on the Accommodations Tax Committee. Requests for 2018 have begun, and include the usual suspects; Kick it at Bohicket, The Billfish Tournament and The Alan Fleming Senior Tennis Tournament. Wells also mentioned the town’s advertising company has agreed to assist with making ATAX forms available to a broader audience, and has also agreed to help manage forms completed through the channels they open up.
Councilmember Skip Crane reported a change in leadership at the POA. Effective with last month’s board meeting, Ed Jones has stepped down as board chair and Bill Huff has stepped up. Councilmember Turner chimed in to say he would have continued to support Jones as chair saying he “Felt the whole thing was poorly done,” but didn’t elaborate.
The mayor’s report made a brief mention of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA representatives would be visiting Seabrook in the coming week to review updates to its flood maps with residents. He then turned to discuss the “Adams Family House.” Little has been said publicly about 1126 Ocean Forrest Lane for nearly a year, but it seems clear SITC’s patience with the system has run out and it wants to demolish the blight.
The partial construction on the property was left open to the elements and has languished for over a decade.
Government agencies galore, multiple lenders, multiple builders, and multiple contractors have been involved in the case, all with varying degrees of financial interests in its disposition. Hoping to mitigate the prospect of being sued over its decision, SITC had attorney Stephen Brown present at the council meeting.
Brown presided over a very deliberate and public review of the case with Carl Simmons, a 45-year veteran of Charleston County’s building services department.
Brown asked Simmons a battery of questions about the property, those and the answers are summarized below:
1. Is there any action which could be taken to save the property?
2. There was a couple looking to buy the property, is that a possibility?
a. No. Mitigation efforts have been estimated at over 50 percent of the building’s value
3. Can the building be saved?
a. No. It would be the worst investment you ever made.
4. Is it a hazard?
5. How many times have you inspected this property?
a. 12 times, at least. It will not improve and continues to deteriorate. It is exactly as it was.
b. Simmons recommended it be torn down.
c. There is black mold hanging from the ceiling.
6. Councilmember Crane asked if the lot would remain a hazard after the building was gone.
a. Simmons was confident the lot itself was not a hazard.
7. Crane asked how much the town would have to pay to remedy the situation.
a. The mayor said it would cost between $60-80,000
8. Crane asked if there was any way SITC could recover those funds.
a. The mayor said SITC would put a lien on the lot valued at $1.26 million.
Jim Bannwart was back and looking fine for the Seabrook Island Utility report this month. He said operations were normal for both March and April.
“Tests” of SIU’s financial health show $2.8 million in unrestricted cash balance, which could be used for much needed backup generators. SIU will probably begin with pump station 1 (Royal Pine), which is the single most important station, at an estimated $60,000. Bannwart also mentioned the need for some roof repairs, courtesy of Hurricane Matthew.
Seabrook resident Alison Blaky was in chambers to follow up on a request she made in March. (She said there was a shark hole near the very popular boardwalk #9 which enticed people to fish there. She remained confident her walks/ bike rides would be more pleasant absent the threat of decapitation by a fishing line she couldn’t see), and asked what, if any action council would take.
The topic had not come up during last month’s council meeting and the mayor seemed to welcome the chance to respond. He said council had discussed the request and decided not to take formal action, but rather advise the new and soon to be trained beach patrol service of the problem, and ask them to enforce common sense as needed.
Seabrook resident Dick Wildermann thanked the mayor and council for taking action to oppose oil exploration of the coast of Seabrook. He asked SITC be sure and send a letter to the governor. “Nikki Haley was in favor of [offshore drilling] but the mid-south Atlantic [Seabrook] was taken out of the list last time because of local opposition,” said Wildermann. There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned.