By Amy Mercer, Island Eye News Editor
Residents of Sullivan’s Island will go to the polls Tuesday, May 2 to vote for three open seats on the Town Council. The council is comprised of six councilmembers and the mayor.
Three incumbent councilmembers are running for re-election, Susan Middaugh, Sarah Church (write-in), and Chauncey Clark. New candidates are Elizabeth Siegling and Tim Reece.
Island Eye News posed the following questions to all the candidates running for Town Council. Their responses are below.
1. Following the resignation of Daniel Howard the town is seeking a new Police Chief, what would you like to see in the candidate that fills this position?
2. On Feb 25, 2016, after numerous meetings and extensive public comment, council approved a management plan for the accreted land by a 6 to 1 vote. One year later, where do we stand? What has been done?
3. Where do you stand on Water & Sewer infrastructure improvements?
4. How do you feel about the new parking regulations, are they effective, do you want to see more. What are your thoughts on future of parking?
5. Are you content with the size of the business district as it is now, or do you see room for growth?
6. What do you see as the biggest challenges for the Town moving forward?
1. Most important is leadership experience in Community Policing. We want our police officers to be user friendly and helpful to residents. A new Police Chief also needs to understand the critical importance of enforcing our parking ordinances and managing traffic flow in our beach town.
A new Chief also needs strong management skills to ensure that policing policies are carried out effectively and efficiently.
2. The vote a year ago approved a 100 ft. Transition Zone with selective removal of vegetation between private property lines and the first 100 ft. of protected land. The TZ was adopted as a good neighbor policy for adjacent homeowners that minimizes fire hazard, provides a buffer from unwanted wildlife, and enhances breezes and sight lines. Implementation requires approval by DHEC, the Lowcountry Open Land Trust and other State and federal agencies and the Town is working its way through this process. Implementation also requires a change in the Town Zoning Ordinances that limit removal of vegetation in the Land Trust area. The Town is being sued over this issue. Although the lawsuit was decided in favor of the Town, it is being appealed to the S.C. Supreme Court. Town lawyers have advised against any change to the zoning ordinance in advance of the Supreme Court decision. By the end of 2017, the Town expects to have the lawsuit decided in the Town’s favor and permits in hand. The TZ can then be implemented and Council can proceed to develop a complete,190- acre, management plan. The Town is continuing with allowed removal of invasive species, under the direction of a horticulture professional.
3. As Chair of the Water & Sewer (W&S) Committee for the past four years, I know our infrastructure needs. In 2002, the Town implemented a systematic replacement program for Town’s rusting cast iron water pipelines that produce red water problems.
The current problem with our Water System is that we are being charged too much for water delivery by CWS compared with neighboring communities.
We are reviewing our CWS contract in an effort to reduce this cost. On the Sewer side, overdue infrastructure needs are being addressed with close attention to cost. We are using innovative and lowcost Test & Seal technology to close leaky joints that currently allow inflow of groundwater into our sewer pipelines. This overloads our pumping stations and Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) and leads to high repair and wastewater processing costs that we pay for in our monthly W&S bills.
To date, the Town has resealed 40 percent of the leakiest pipelines and plans to reseal the rest in the next few years. A second essential infrastructure need is a major upgrade of our aging Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP). The heart of the plant is a 50-year-old oxidation ditch that is 10 years past its replacement date is not built to withstand even a moderate earthquake. In October, 2015, the Town submitted a FEMA grant application for 75 percent funding for a substantial WWTP upgrade. The grant review process is nearly over, and Council will soon make final decisions on this project. With careful planning, these essential infrastructure improvements can be carried out in a cost-effective manner. The “costs of doing nothing” will only increase.
4. Our new parking regulations are about right. I see increasing compliance as drivers get the hang of it. With good enforcement this plan should meet the needs of residents and visitors well into the future, with tweaks if needed.
5. The business district is a good fit for our small Island. We have good restaurants to enjoy, bikes to rent, and a modest amount of business and office space. This is enough and I am not in favor of expansion.
6. The biggest short term challenge will be to fund essential infrastructure projects. Council has been considering funding options and – with or without a FEMA grant – these needs can be met without undue burden on residents. For example, funds from past lot sales have been saved to help pay for anticipated costs of a WWTP upgrade. Long term, the biggest challenge is increasing pressures for growth and development. We live on a valuable piece of real estate.
While progress is important, it has to be thoughtfully balanced with preservation of our family-friendly, small-town way of life.
1. I’d first like to take this opportunity to thank Danny for his dedication to our Island. We appreciate his many years of service, and he will surely be missed. In looking to our future, it is of the utmost importance that we find a Chief who understands the balance between enforcing the law as our protector and being the public face of our Island government. The police chief must go above and beyond to interact with our residents and guests, to be approachable, and to be on-foot as often as possible. He must be a leader for the department.
2. One year after Council agreed to a management plan in a 100-foot transition zone, we are waiting for the appeal on the lawsuit against the Town to be resolved before any actual work can be completed. After the underbrush, small trees, and invasive species are removed, and a large portion of the myrtles are removed, we will be able to better assess the next steps for the management of the remaining land. I can provide a unique perspective for the development of this management plan. I live at the edge of the thickest part of this land, between Station 16 and 17, yet I am conservation-minded. I appreciate watching the seasonal changes of the forest in front of me. I am grateful for the natural habitat it provides our local wildlife, and the protection it provides from a powerful ocean during a violent storm. But I also understand the love so many have for that ocean view. I do believe we can achieve it all. With the ecologically sound pruning of trees, and removal of harmful invasive species, we can create view corridors that do not cause damage to the land.
3. One of the most challenging situations current Council is facing is that money has not been put aside yearly to cover big capital projects, such as the replacement of the Wastewater Treatment Plant and repairs to our wastewater pipes. I support the existing plans to replace the Waste Water Treatment Plant. While we hope to have FEMA cover 75 percent of the cost, we are still awaiting a final award confirmation from them. We have a substantial portion of the funds in the bank, and the Water and Sewer Committee has already begun putting together several funding options to cover the balance. If we do not receive the FEMA grant, we have options to make a less expensive, yet just as effective, plant because we will not be held to the strict 500-year flood proof criteria that FEMA requires.
These important decisions can be made in July, when we expect cost assessments to arrive with current pricing. You may have heard the rumors suggesting we move our sewage treatment to Mt. Pleasant.
Unfortunately, this is not a financially feasible option because of the extremely high cost of the infrastructure. It would also result in very high Water/Sewer bills because of the processing fees incurred from Mt. Pleasant.
4. Hundreds of people visit our beaches every day of the summer. They park in every possible spot they can find on the roads closest to the beach paths. Often these cars were parked practically in the middle of the road, making the passageway on the roads very narrow. It is the Town’s responsibility to keep visitors, along with our residents, safe. The roads had become so congested that our emergency vehicles often could not navigate through the streets. This puts everyone at risk. The one-side only parking plan, along with the requirement to have all wheels off the pavement (except Middle Street), was a way to clear enough space for an ambulance or fire truck to travel down every road in the unfortunate event that they are needed. We will adjust the parking plan, and sign placement, as needed. These areas of need will become self-evident as we move into the busy summer traffic season.
5. The business district does not have any more room for growth. However, we must continue to support our existing business district to ensure it thrives. A healthy business district is economically good for the residents because a successful business pays more taxes to the town. I very much enjoy the assortment of our local restaurants and shops, and I am glad they are there.
6. I see three major issues we face moving forward:
• Our Wastewater Treatment Plant absolutely must be replaced. This project has been underway for several years, and we are on the verge of receiving final cost assessments including current-day pricing. For the future of our toilets, it’s time to get to work.
• The Protected Land has been at the crux of a heated debate for far too long. We should not let this gift tear our community apart. It is time to come up with a management plan that enables us to best care for the land in an ecologically sound manner, and to also be a good neighbor to adjacent residents. This land is a remarkable asset and we are lucky to have it.
• Our community must find ways to work together on controversial issues with civility and respect. Unfortunately, the angry attack mode political climate of national politics has made it’s way to our little Island. Negative campaigning of lies and half-truths will ultimately hurt us all. Our community is better than this and deserves open, honest discussion of the issues.
1. We are in an active search for a permanent Police Chief. In the interim, Chris Griffen will act as a temporary chief until final selection is made.
2. There have been many frustrating delays in the management plan for the accreted land over the years. The latest is a hold placed on the town as a recommendation of legal counsel. I would like to move forward with the transition zone.
3. We need to replace the sewage treatment plant as expeditiously as possible. Fund it and finish it.
4. The new parking signage is in place. Minor adjustments are being made. We can already see that circulation and emergency access has improved.
This summer will be the test. Both parking and speed limits will be enforced. Please drive and park responsibly.
5. The business district is an important part of the fabric of our town. Currently there is a good variety of businesses in the commercial district. Many are locally owned. Restaurants are also a vital part of our community. The number of restaurants is limited by ordinance.
6. Funding and finishing a replacement sewage treatment plant. Park restoration (Now that the Town Hall is complete) Parking and traffic control Flooding control
1. Our police department provides a valuable service in the protection of our island and the safety of its inhabitants. I would like to see a police chief, whoever is chosen, who understands it is the local residents, families and children and our way of island life, that are being protected.
Lieutenant Chris Griffin has served the island for 20 years he knows our Island and the residents. He was second in command to Chief Howard. He is currently the acting Chief now and should be made our permanent police chief.
2. The Accreted land, where do I stand? At the same spot it started ten years ago. There are so many egos and misinterpretations that this has taken on a life of its own. No one on the side of cleaning up the accreted land that I have spoken to has declared war and called for the leveling of the entire maritime forest. A spring cleaning if you will, like my yard and my plants I prune to clear out weeds so my plants have more blooms.
I clear away those vines that suffocate some trees, trim dead branches so the trees grow taller, healthier and stronger. Everything comes back greener and more beautiful. There is a place of compromise in all this. An expert was hired and the original survey was done 10 years ago which has so much valuable information. This is but one – that dunes protect our coast more than vegetation. Certain vegetation like wax myrtles that are clustered together actually hinders the growth of dunes that would protect the island from rising water. The fire chief – the expert on fire and safety – has spoken too. I would look to these professionals for guidance on this and take their expertise and their knowledge to make an educated decision and move forward. I am on the side of getting it done.
3. I have heard talk about the state of our water and sewer, so I met with Andy Benke who was incredibly gracious. He afforded me his time for so many of my questions. It is something that needs to be addressed and should be number one on the “to do” list. This is a critical issue for our island and it must be addressed openly, honestly and swiftly. I hope that the Town Council will listen to and heed his advice immediately. Concerned residents should attend the town council workshops where it is a more relaxed atmosphere where you can ask the council questions that can’t really be asked in the formal setting of a town council meeting.
4. The “No Parking” signs on Middle Street are effective at giving vehicles room to move out of the way of our emergency vehicles.
Parking is an important issue and it should be addressed clearly now and in the future, to strike a balance between beach goers and residents.
5. As for the business district, we do have business zoned empty lots in the business district that are available for new construction.
If the owners of these lots pass with the building, planning and zoning commissions and the business itself is an approved business by Sullivan’s Island and they can create enough parking for their building, then okay. With the construction of new businesses parking and congestion will grow. We have so many cars that loop around and around just to find a parking spot. I would like to see — I’m sorry to say — a couple of “Public Parking” signs at the stop sign and along Middle Street directing visitors away from the busiest area. We could perhaps charge in areas like downtown, five dollars a day. Let’s just get traffic moving.
6. Getting the Town Council to move forward could be our biggest challenge… Like me I am sure some residents are tired of hearing and reading about the same questions that have been asked again and again for the past 10 years. I’d like to get things moving forward.
1. The new police chief needs to have a “Community Service First” mindset and it needs to be ingrained in the entire department. I feel that the next chief should also be someone who is either a current employee or someone in the local region who understands a small-town island community in which the police department interacts with both its citizens and visitors.
I do not feel we should be spending Town dollars to conduct a national search as has been discussed by certain members of the current council.
2. First of all, the Town Council has spent too many years on this issue and it’s time to forward. Unfortunately, there still is a lawsuit that needs to be resolved before any management plan can be implemented and moved forward. I have followed this issue for many years and feel strongly there is a compromise for those on the ocean-side of the island who want some relief for their views and those who want to protect the Island’s landscape. It’s about fair and equitable compromise.
3. We can’t have a functioning island community if we can’t flush our toilets. If indeed the Sewer Plant could potentially become functionally incapacitated at anytime, then we have a problem that needs to be the foremost pressing issue moving forward. This current Council has been too slow to acknowledge and address this issue and has not prepared for it financially. Lets listen to the Experts and get it fixed.
4. It’s not just about Parking but Traffic and Traffic Flow…we need to look at the bottleneck through the commercial district and also take out some of the confusion around the signage that has been placed and dictated by the SCDOT. It needs improvement. We still do not have the right balance and must constantly review it as more and more people move to the area and want to visit our Island.
5. Our current zoning in place for the commercial district has been well crafted and does not allow for additional growth concerning restaurants/bars which the majority of residents agree with as their largest concern. I would like to explore options for additional offstreet parking that would both alleviate some of the traffic congestion on Middle Street and generate some revenue for both the Town and residents who own the dual-zoned properties near the commercial district.
6. As a 20-year resident of this magnificent place I call home, my biggest priority as a council member will be ensuring that any position or decision I make will be with how it affects the Quality of Life we all expect to have as residents of this island…not visitors or tourists, but residents.
I also want to address the current council’s “Us versus Them” mentality that continues to divide our community instead of moving things forward through ACTION. We need fewer studies or consultants that cost the island’s taxpayers too much money and then are ignored by Council while our problems fester. It’s time for a Council that ACTS for Island residents and does what’s right.
1. We are very grateful to Chief Howard for his many years of service to the Town. I have appointed a Search Committee for this important position, consisting of the Chairs of the Administration and Public Safety committees (Mark Howard and Chauncey Clark, respectively), Town Administrator Andy Benke, and myself as mayor. We are almost finished drawing up the qualifications that we will look for in our next chief. Then we can advertise the position and evaluate candidates for presentation to council. We will of course consider both internal and external candidates to ensure that we find the best person for the job.
2. We did approve a plan for the transition zone (first 100 feet of the protected land seaward of the private property lines) after a number of meetings and much public comment. We wanted to be sure that interested members of the public had ample opportunity to provide input and that our council debate was responsive to that input, rational, thorough and transparent. I believe our process was faithful to those goals.
The Town is responsible for implementation of that plan. We have worked to obtain the necessary approvals from DHEC’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (which has jurisdiction over much of the protected land) and the Lowcountry Open Land Trust (which enforces the deed restrictions that have protected this invaluable beachfront property from development). However, we are still in litigation about the protected land because of a lawsuit by some adjacent residents. In 2015 the Town prevailed in the local hearing, but the plaintiffs have appealed to the State Court of Appeals. Thus, our lawyers have advised that until that appeal is settled, we should not take additional action required to implement our plan.
3. There are two main parts to this infrastructure, namely, the water part and the sewer (wastewater) part. We get our water from Charleston Water System, but the distribution system belongs to the town. Since a professionally drafted long-term plan was commissioned in 2002, the Town has been replacing most of the old water mains to eliminate problems associated with them.
Regarding the sewer system, under the leadership of Councilmember Susan Middaugh, Chair of our Water and Sewer Committee, we have been addressing necessary improvements in a thoughtful, methodical and responsible manner. There are two main components to our sewer system: 1) the collection system (which takes our waste from our homes to the wastewater treatment plant) and 2) the treatment plant.
Our sewer collection system has a problem shared by most municipalities of any age: inflow (rainwater entering the system via manholes etc.) and infiltration (groundwater entering the system via cracks and loose joints underground). It’s called “I & I.” The problem with I & I is that it greatly increases the volume of wastewater that the treatment plant must handle.
We have implemented the first phase of a plan to reduce the amount of I & I by an innovative method that seals the existing collection pipes to avoid the much more expensive and disruptive option of digging up and replacing them. The first phase took on the sections with the worst I & I and the results have been very encouraging.
Our wastewater treatment plant is also in need of improvements and we have submitted a comprehensive grant application for partial federal support. The review process has been far slower than it should have been but we are expecting to start our process in the near future. In the meantime, residents should be confident that our plant is meeting all DHEC and other environmental standards.
4. We had to take action, not necessarily because of current problems but because the population of our Tri-County region will continue to explode, while our beaches remain the same size. Over a number of years, we considered a number of different plans to manage parking, engaged consultants, and observed the actions of neighboring beach communities to see how those worked.
Ultimately we focused on the primary issue of public safety, namely, how many people and vehicles the Island can handle at any time while assuring safety. The solution we chose was to limit parking to only one side of nearly every street (except Middle which is wider than most) and to require that all wheels be off the pavement where parking is permitted. This has the effects of enhancing safe and swift passage of emergency vehicles (where seconds really count) and limiting the number of visitors to the Island at any time to a volume that we can protect. And: No parking fees, no vehicle stickers or permits needed!
We retained traffic and parking specialists to help us draw up this plan, and had to get necessary approval by SC DOT of the plan and the sign texts. Needless to say, as in most things, we learned that things are often somewhat different in implementation than they are on paper. As a result, based on evaluation of results and resident feedback, we have made a considerable number of “field edits” to adjust signage as appropriate, but are trying to remain faithful to the original intent of the plan: one-side parking, no vehicles on the road.
5. Our commercial district is a vibrant center of our town life, especially now that our fine new Town Hall is located there. Our commercial district has been essentially the same size since our first zoning ordinance was ratified in the 1970’s. It should not be any bigger.
However, it might surprise many folks to learn that the zoning ordinance has always permitted commercial uses of several vacant properties on the south (beach) side of Middle Street between Stations 21 and 22 (across from the park). At some point those properties may host such uses, but only those that are currently permitted (which does not include additional restaurants).
Because of vast population growth East of the Cooper and elsewhere in the region, our challenge is to maintain a healthy business district= that residents and visitors value and enjoy, without it becoming disruptive to our community.
Shortly after I was elected, regardless of the Island’s and my Irish heritage, I took on what was then a recent, major problem in the commercial district: the prior year’s outsized and inadequately controlled St. Patrick’s Day “celebration”. There had been excessive drunkenness and illegal behavior. Enough was enough. In consultation with the affected businesses, citizens and our public safety officers, we reined in this event but allowed it to continue as an enjoyable occasion for the Island and neighboring communities.
We must continue to find the right balance in our commercial district. I think the above example shows how I will continue to approach this challenge.
6. Going forward, we must:
• Continue to address the impact on the Island of exploding growth that surrounds us
• Preserve our unique natural resources including marshes and beachfront protected land
• Improve stormwater management within the state-owned system
• Commence major upgrades of our wastewater treatment facility
• Develop a thoughtful, long-term resilience plan to address rising sea level
• Begin a long-term funding plan for maintenance and replacement of major capital items
Polls will open at 7 a.m. on Tuesday, May 2 and close at 7 p.m. The polling place for this district is Sunrise Presbyterian Church at 3222 Middle Street. For more information visit sullivansisland-sc.com.