Crowd gathered at Conway Glass

At least 60 people turned out Friday evening to find out how they can help influence Conway and Horry County's development plans.

A group of flood victims and homeowners who are afraid they will become flood victims gathered Friday evening to develop a plan to petition the City of Conway and Horry County to slow down development until they can get a handle on flooding.

About 65 people attended the meeting at Conway Glass where self-declared river rat, April O’Leary, who is associated with the Winyah Rivers Alliance, encouraged them to call their congressmen, city council members, county council members, neighbors and employers to pass on important information that she shared with the group, saying she’s seen communities accomplish amazing things when they’re organized.

The first thing the group was encouraged to do is show up tonight at the Conway City Council meeting asking council not to change its 4-3 vote on the former Conway Golf Club property requiring lots to be at least 10,000-square-feet.

O’Leary said they aren’t opposed to developer Forrest Beverly or to Beverly Homes, they just want to slow things down a little until actions can be taken to hold back some flooding.

O’Leary doesn’t believe the development can be stopped, but she does think the group might be able to get some concessions. She believes that adding 200 homes with impervious surfaces is a public health issue.

O’Leary, who has recently moved back into her flood-stricken house on Busbee Street, told the group she spent the money her family had saved for her son’s college education to repair their home.

The group agreed that O’Leary, Connie Smith, Sallie Walbourne and Sudie Daves Thomas will oversee the group and keep its members informed. There will be future meetings, she said.

Smith told the group that her home backs up to Crabtree Swamp.

“If another storm comes, my house will be gone,” she said.

Later, the principal of Conway Christian School, said, “I feel like we all have a lot at stake. I love Conway…It affects everything. Conway is very much scarred right now, very much scarred.”

Conway City Council is set to give final approval tonight at its regularly-scheduled council meeting at 5:30 p.m. in the Conway City Hall to annex the 62.42-acre former golf club site. The first vote called for the property to come into the city with a new R zoning designation that requires all of the lots to be at least 10,000-square-feet and 100-feet across the front.

Beverly wants an R-1 designation that will allow 7,500-square-feet lots with a requirement of 75-feet across the front. His plat now shows 200 homes on the property. It has been estimated that the R zone will cut that number by about 40 homes.

O’Leary wants the group’s conversation to be about flooding and water quality, not necessarily the number of homes at the golf club. However, she says rapid development needs to slow before the flooding issues can be successfully dealt with.

She points to Crabtree Canal, built in the 1960s to keep area farms from losing their crops, is a big part of the problem now; that, plus climate change that has brought warmer temperatures and more rain events. She also pointed to the difference in hurricanes that once dropped 10 inches of rain that are now dropping 30 inches.

She recalled that there was a commission empaneled to deal with Crabtree Canal’s water issues, but said Horry County’s Dave Fuss, who was heading the commission, has left the county’s stormwater department. County officials are trying now to find his replacement, according to O’Leary.

River enthusiast Rick Rickenbaker believes that some of the problem was created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, whose workers dredged the canal in the 1980s. He said they piled up the sediment on the banks of the canal, making the system narrower.

O’Leary says she believes Conway is not a healthy community. Healthy communities don’t flood every year, have homes being torn down and have children out of school for two weeks.

She concedes that Conway is in an unusual position in that two-thirds of the county’s water comes to Conway, most of it draining into Kingston Lake.

Printed information passed out at the meeting says Crabtree Swamp is listed as an impaired water body due to fecal bacteria contamination.

“Fecal  bacteria – a bacteria contained in the gut of warm-blooded animals and excreted through feces – is a persistent contaminant in the Crabtree Swamp system. The fecal bacteria E. coli can be pathogenic to humans leading to gastrointestinal illness,” the document says.

It goes on,” Development of wetlands and natural areas impairs ecosystem services such as flood mitigation, water filtration, and storm buffering. Maintaining natural spaces is imperative to preventing catastrophic flooding and to help maintain good water quality in the watershed.

“Channelization of Crabtree Swamp has impacted the natural floodplain leading to more intense flooding in Conway. Restoration of the floodplain will reduce flooding and protect your homes from destruction.”

Senior solicitor George DeBusk told the group that the first issue is convincing Conway City Council not to drop the requirements for the Conway Golf Club houses from 10,000-square-feet to 7,500-square-feet.

He said the group can’t stop development, but with unity it might be able to cut the density. He encouraged them all to attend the Conway City Council meeting tonight.

“This is the first step in the process. This is not a short process. This is a very long process,” O’Leary said.

This effort, she said, is about 2050 and 2070, the future of Conway’s children and grandchildren.

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I'm the editor of the Horry Independent, a weekly newspaper in Conway, South Carolina. I cover city hall and courts, among many other subjects. Know of a good story? Call me at 843-488-7241.

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