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Letter To The Editor: Long-term Outlook

We remember Sullivan’s Island of the 1970s, when the primary residences were small homes and beach houses to which Lowcountry owners retreated in the summer months. We remember the beginnings of the land trust and the development of a maritime forest to protect and conserve our natural habitat. 

We were here when Hurricane Hugo hit and later wrote professional papers and a book about it: “Island in the Storm: Sullivan’s Island and Hurricane Hugo.” The lessons from those times include the importance of a long-term outlook, science and professional expertise, and open and trustworthy government. These are among the reasons we support Mayor Pat O’Neil’s re-election and Council candidates Scott Millimet, Justin Novak and Garry Vissar.

The maritime forest protects birds and wildlife and is a beauty to behold. When a major hurricane hits you are going to want as much of that buffer as you can get. Hugo moved ashore at 25 mph. High level winds measured just before landfall reached 161mph. Ground level winds were estimated at 138 mph with higher level gusts. Estimated, not measured, because weather service instruments were blown away. Storm surges ranging from 13.5 to 15 feet above mean sea level. With the exception of the narrow ridges of portions of Jasper Boulevard, Sullivan’s Island was under water for about an hour.

If you live here long enough, you too may experience a major hurricane. Every year there is a 3% chance of one passing within 40 miles and a 1% chance a Category 4 or 5 storm will strike. (That does not mean 100 years between major storms.) Going through a hurricane is an unforgettable experience. Three-quarters of SI residents responding to our post-hurricane survey said Hugo had dramatically upset their lives. Over half said it had been more stressful than such life-changing events as the loss of a job or income or the death of a spouse.

Post-storm, you are going to need a disaster-experienced mayor and town council to get things up and running. Streets have to be cleared of glass, debris of all kinds, downed power lines, and even houses sitting at intersections. Homes and property will need to be protected. For a time, government at all levels, state, county, local will be run under emergency decrees. 

You also want that mayor and town council to be resident-focused because swing drawbridges get dumped into the inland waterway and approaches to the Breach Inlet Bridge get washed away. Absent emergency services, for a time it will be too dangerous to allow residents to return to live. 

You will want government officials you have learned to trust because they are the ones who will keep you informed and plan how to get you back to the island as soon as possible to inspect homes, remove valuable possessions, and protect what you can.

You will also appreciate having lived under officials who see government responsibility as planning for the long term, not just catering to the pop issues of the day. This includes their updating and enforcing all the laws and regulations that went into ensuring your house was built to code.  Homes that were knocked off their foundations or totally destroyed by Hugo were built before 1982, the year Sullivan’s Island was put on probation by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Homes that survived Hugo more or less structurally intact were built after the town began enforcing a building code that met the standards for participating in the federal flood insurance program. You should buy that insurance. Slightly more than one-quarter of SI residents had insurance damages in excess of $20,000. In 1989 dollars; that’s $43,745 today.

Mayor Pat O’Neil is the most qualified candidate running for Mayor. He is fully responsive to the concerns of all island residents. We endorse his candidacy and Council candidates Scott Millimet, Justin Novak, and Garry Vissar.

Dorothy Perrin and Jamie W. Moore

Sullivan’s Island  

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