Re­cent flood­ing spot­lights need for evac­u­a­tion high­way

The Sun News (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY SEN. STEPHEN GOLDFINCH AND REP. LEE HE­WITT – — Sen. Goldfinch and Rep. He­witt live in Mur­rells In­let and rep­re­sent Dis­tricts 34 and 108 re­spec­tively in the S.C. Gen­eral Assem­bly

In the month of Septem­ber, Ge­orge­town and Horry coun­ties faced a dis­as­ter on two fronts. First, as Hur­ri­cane Florence slowly moved to­ward the coast we faced a strength­en­ing Cat­e­gory 4 storm. Then, as it moved ashore in North Carolina, we watched the storm stall and dump up to 17 inches of rain into the wa­ter­shed that drains into rivers that feed into Winyah Bay.

Both of these sce­nar­ios re­quired the lo­cal Emer­gency Op­er­a­tions Cen­ters to call for evac­u­a­tions of the af­fected ar­eas. Luck­ily, we were spared dam­age from the land­fall of Florence. How­ever, we were not so lucky from the af­fects of the rain­fall. The flood­ing caused clo­sure of High­ways 501, 22 and 9 in Horry County and aqua dams were in­stalled on High­ways 17 and 521 in Ge­orge­town County as the Dept. of Nat­u­ral Re­sources flood mod­el­ing pro­jected these roads would be­come im­pass­able as well. If Hwy 17 had be­come in­un­dated with flood wa­ters as pre­dicted this would have been a night­mare sit­u­a­tion for both coun­ties, with the Grand Strand and par­tic­u­larly the Wac­ca­maw Neck be­com­ing in­ac­ces­si­ble is­lands.

As we look back and re­view the out­come, it’s ob­vi­ous the pro­posed South­ern Evac­u­a­tion Lifeline High­way (SELL) must be­come a pri­or­ity for the safety of our res­i­dents and vis­i­tors. This pro­posed 28-mile lim­ited ac­cess high­way con­nect­ing Hwy 31 with U.S. 378 would vastly im­prove ac­cess across the Wac­ca­maw River be­tween Con­way and Ge­orge­town, pro­vid­ing a needed ad­di­tional trans­porta­tion cor­ri­dor in the event other vi­tal road­ways be­came flooded and im­pass­able.

Stud­ies by the S.C. Dept. of Trans­porta­tion and the Myr­tle Beach Cham­ber of Com­merce show the SELL project will re­duce traf­fic con­ges­tion, im­prove road net­work ef­fi­ciency and sig­nif­i­cantly ex­pe­dite hur­ri­cane evac­u­a­tions, par­tic­u­larly for Ge­orge­town County, and now it’s clear the project would also im­prove safety in the event of flood­ing.

Plan­ning for this im­por­tant road be­gan in 2003 and a fea­si­bil­ity study was com­pleted in 2009. Cur­rently, Horry County has al­lo­cated $25 mil­lion for the fi­nal en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact study, road de­sign and right-ofway ac­qui­si­tion. This is a drop in the bucket com­pared to the es­ti­mated $600 mil­lion price tag. While there are many road im­prove­ments that are im­por­tant and needed in our area, we call on our Con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion to help us find fund­ing for this very im­por­tant evac­u­a­tion route.

Re­cently, Gov. Henry McMaster is­sued an ex­ec­u­tive or­der cre­at­ing the S.C. Flood­wa­ter Com­mis­sion, which we ap­plaud. This com­mis­sion is tasked with iden­ti­fy­ing po­ten­tial short and long-term mit­i­ga­tion so­lu­tions for low ly­ing and coastal ar­eas along the state’s rivers. We ask this com­mis­sion to ad­dress a flawed FEMA home buy­out pro­gram that bars many hard-work­ing fam­i­lies im­pacted by flood­ing from qual­i­fy­ing for the mit­i­ga­tion pro­gram. We also ask for ad­di­tional fund­ing to im­prove the ac­cu­racy of the DNR flood mod­el­ing, which was flawed, par­tic­u­larly for Ge­orge­town County. It is vi­tal that lo­cal Emer­gency Op­er­a­tion Cen­ters and the res­i­dents of af­fected ar­eas have the best pos­si­ble in­for­ma­tion to plan for a flood event.

It is im­por­tant that we be­gin to ad­dress these crit­i­cal needs as soon as pos­si­ble to en­sure the safety of our res­i­dents and vis­i­tors.

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