A first- term councilman, relatively new to the charms and challenges of Southern living, cavalierly attempted in a recent op-ed to minimalize the need for responsible community planning. He did so in the context of urging a vote in favor of the $5.5 million debt referendum (actually more than $8.7 million once nontransparent costs were added in). To support his argument, the councilman unfortunately attempted to interject humor into a serious matter and trivialized the consequences of devastating hurricane risks faced by barrier islanders each year. Perhaps it was unintentional, but at the same time, the councilman made light of our deep abiding love for our neighbors by comparing those who favored priorities as a first order of business to Chicken Little of fairy-tale folklore. I do not wish to cast dispersions, but the councilman’s siren call that “tourists will pay” for everything has always been an inaccurate narrative. Using a local angling colloquialism, if you are not already filled to the gills with politics, one cannot fish or cut bait in these waters with such jigs. If intended as comedy, the councilman’s cocksure pronouncements would have been funny – like a combination of Gilligan’s Island sit-com characters – recklessly failing to heed weather reports, floundering the S.S. Minnow onto a remote reef; then idly making cream pies, ironing the finery of the wealthy and thoughtlessly parroting inane lines from old movies. However, instead of being a joke, the councilman and some of his allies were apparently serious. They repeatedly squawked that there is little risk of future hurricanes. Under the circumstances, the civilized equivalent to a naval call to arms was recently put to vote. In context, the question was: Should the mere plopping of a small acorn onto the head of Henny Penny ever be equated to the horrific devastation caused by exceedingly powerful Atlantic Basin storms? The threat to human life? Destruction of our beach and homes? And yes, we know from the crow’s nest of NOAA, that the sky will actually fall as hurricanes’ powerful 140 mph winds drive and slam heavy rains and flotsam onto Isle of Palms. Grace, Hazel and Hugo are but a few reminders. Some proponents of the marina debt referendum tried to seduce the public with the lure of glitz and what amounted to trinkets. It was a fools’ gold distraction. There was not an anchor’s semblance of stability in their kinked lines. Even if they were ignorant of weather, our voters were not. By comparison, islanders knew that over two hundred and fifty major storms have made landfall in the Southern USA’s recent past. A fiscally responsible public knew that our municipality would be engulfed in debt in consequence of the next hurricane if we were to approve the marina referendum.
IOP would then have to, nautically speaking, give way to unsympathetic creditor financial pirates to whom we would owe our treasure. We would have been much worse off than simply being up Shem Creek without a paddle. Our experienced islanders have always known that hurricane season runs from the beginning of June through the middle of November and that it encompasses the height of the lowcountry tourist season, a period when IOP is most challenged. The responsible voting public was also keenly aware that when, not “if” we are again faced with circumstances similar to what happened in the aftermath of Hugo, a fickle group of transients and day-trippers will unfortunately crab and scuttle way. Long term residents such as our newly elected mayor and council persons having considerable real life experiences as well as substantial business backgrounds, were mindful that FEMA, HUD, SCDOT, SCNG and SCE&G will not bail us out in consequence of a disaster, as the naïve councilman had opined. Educated voters recognized that what limited relief FEMA might provide has never been for commercial purposes. All one had to do was to ask our neighbors in Marion County’s Nichols, SC how much the government and corporations could and would actually do in context: two years in the aftermath of Matthew’s floods, more than 50 percent are still left without their homes. More than 70 percent of businesses have not reopened.
Retirees and the most vulnerable have been particularly hard hit. Nichols municipality is reportedly on the verge of bankruptcy collapse. Leading us to believe that some amorphous, acronymic organizations would take care of our every need was a myth at the very least. IOP residents were cognizant that they already pay the marina’s existing debt deficit with “hospitality” taxes on top of other taxes. In addition, island investors have shelled out hard earned money for accommodations, property and business taxes. Higher government levies and more debt would undoubtedly follow if tourist revenues were no longer realized.
IOP homeowners would then be gutted as chum for sharks if we had opted to navigate into the eye of future storms. The terrible impact of past and the next disaster is no “red herring” as the councilman lobbied. Simply stated, the truth cannot be hidden under the booby hatch, by burying our heads in the sand or heaving ho to the recitation of a children’s bedtime story. Finally, it is not without irony that, in the councilman’s op-ed argument, Chicken Little was eaten by the sly fox who proposed to guard our proverbial hen house. It is also no coincidence that the author of the previous op-ed repeatedly urged IOP taxpayers to underwrite and subsidize the considerable costs associated with a “community” marina“ so that the uber-privileged would have a “convenient” overnight mooring site for their outsized yachts cruising back and forth between Hoboken, New Jersey and Ft. Lauderdale as well as a “walking trail” promenade on which to stretch their sea legs. If we had followed the councilman’s wayward, waypoint plotting, IOP taxpayers would have been forced to pay for the fun and games of the richest, day trippers and transients who contribute little to our city’s welfare by comparison. Priority issues such as adequate drainage, beach re-nourishment, parking and neighborhood welfare would have been placed aft, if not keelhauled.
Notably, IOP already actively welcomes tourists and generously permits day trippers to inundate the marina, recreation center and neighborhoods with free day and overnight parking for their vehicles and luxury pleasure craft – often exceeding the length of tractor trailers hauling shipping containers to port. To be fair, the councilman did have at least one point relative to his proposed multi-million dollar marina parking lot – it, as well as Palm Boulevard, Waterway 41st and 21st Avenues, are frequently littered with large tour buses, self-contained RVs and/or triple axle boat trailers hauled by diesel trucks longer than most island homes are wide. Intelligent, fair-minded and informed voters recognized the serious threats and consequences of the political choices with which they were faced and gave wide berth to the marina debt referendum on Nov. 7. In doing so, the electorate replaced incumbent councilmembers who had supported a profit-overpeople agenda and selected a new mayor by a 70-30% margin. In the lens of reality, it has always been a dream to believe that we could blithely surf along on never ending balmy days. In essence, the op-ed fable was rightly put to sleep as a fairytale political narrative. Hopefully that’s the end of the story and with a new administration having a sunny disposition, we can get back to things that are certainly important and surely more enjoyable. With that in mind, my wife has reminded me that a walk on the beach is worth a thousand words (and sometimes more).
Isle of Palms