All citizens on SI have a vested interest in the outcomes of discussion of the management of the so-called Transition Zones and should let their Council Representatives know their concerns. This Zone space was arbitrarily constructed in an effort to provide some residents with better views of the ocean and to mitigate some fears of dangerous habitat. In the meantime, Storm Florence has awakened our fear of the more pressing and most likely concern – complete surge overrun of the entire island. Fortunately, there are preventative measures that citizens and municipalities can employ to be proactive.
FEMA has established guidelines that address the most important aspects of management of natural barriers already existing between property owners and an ever-rising ocean and the increase in frequency and severity of storms. FEMA, who draws flood plains, elevation requirements and provides relief after the fact; clearly describes what can’t be done in the land between homeowners and the ocean.
SI not only has an obligation to not violate the terms of the Open Land Trust easement placed on accreted land but must not jeopardize likely increases in flood insurance by operating outside FEMA guidelines. It will be extremely important for citizens to read what FEMA has to say on alterations proposed by our current plans for managing Transition Zones. Their capacity to stabilize potentially prohibitive insurance rates far outweighs property value concerns. The prudent buyer may be more concerned with construction where there should be coastal retreat, local management related tax increases and flood insurance expense; particularly if they exceed appreciated equity.
Unfortunately, we citizens have focused on the less likely disaster scenario of fire that is way down the list compiled by the 2017 Charleston Regional Hazard Mitigation Plan. Here, hurricane, flood and sea level rise topped the list and wildfire came after earthquake, tornado, hazardous materials (think SI waste water and runoff) or terrorist attack.
This is not to minimize Firewise programs emphasizing how local homeowner steps are far more important than any beach vegetation interventions. This does not reduce the important steps already recommended by our Fire Chief. He has continued to advocate aggressively wide fire lanes using our beach access paths. This, plus property owner management, could open up vistas to the ocean without the prohibitive expense involved in continuous maintenance of arbitrary selected portions of our most valuable storm buffer. In fact, a transition zone represents the last homeowner (here defined as all homeowners on SI) defense in a storm flood event. Any disturbance in these areas invites opportunistic and invasive species replacement, which creates a more costly nightmare. Friends, “First Do No Harm!”