The City of Conway, along with three other entities, has conserved 152 acres of Waccamaw River floodplain in hopes of mitigating some future flooding.
“Experiencing three catastrophic floods in four years has taught us that we need to focus on efforts to remove development from harm’s way and prevent future development where we know flooding will occur,” said Adam Emrick, Conway city administrator. “The more natural land that is conserved in the floodplain, the more storage capacity there is to hold the floodwaters. This tract marks Conway’s commitment to taking those steps that are available to address flooding issues.”
The Open Space Institute, the Winyah Rivers Alliance, Westmoreland landowners and the city came together to help further the Conway Conservation Corridor, a network of conserved lands intended to help relieve flooding issues, while providing a pedestrian connection between downtown Conway and Coastal Carolina University.
“This is about as good of an opportunity we’ve had as of late,” said Conway Mayor Barbara Blain-Bellamy. “We might not be able to raise bridges or move roads, but we can protect those areas that are wetlands that are not proper for development.”
The conserved land “drinks a lot of water,” Blain-Bellamy said, which would help soak up floodwater that might flow elsewhere if the land were built upon.
Hurricane Florence flooding garnered national attention, after the Waccamaw River crested at more than 20 feet. The disaster followed flooding in 2015 and 2016, and cumulatively these disasters have resulted in approximately $4.2 million in damage to city property alone.
Conway officials said that its acquisition will also help with a “transformative recreation vision”, which could hopefully connect Coastal Carolina University and Downtown Conway with possible walking and/or bicycle trails.
“Until we figure out a way to do this, that will always be the desire of both the city and CCU. There are staff and professors who today ride bicycles from Conway to campus. Not only is there a desire, but a need. People are more in tune with their health…the closer we can get to connecting the community, the benefits are many fold,” Blain-Bellamy said.
The acquisition cost $280,000, but was paid for by grants from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act Program and Duke Energy’s Water Resources Fund, according to city officials.
“My sister and I are thrilled that the property that our dad acquired is going to go into conservation,” said Paige French, one of the two landowners, who donated a portion of the value of the tract. “We appreciate the efforts of the conservation partners to protect the tract so that we can all enjoy this beautiful land. We are outdoor enthusiasts but more than that value good stewardship.”
Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge Manager Craig Sasser said the tract will eventually be donated to the Refuge.
“The city will be holding on to it until we can amend our boundary to add it in,” he said.