To the Editor,
Like my friends and neighbors across Horry County, I watched, fear stricken, as floodwater from Hurricane Florence rose rapidly around my home. Lucky to be on higher ground, I escaped the worst. For too many the horror continues as they begin the painstaking process of repairing and rebuilding their homes and communities.
We all know natural disasters are inevitable. As an environmental sociologist I also understand how human actions shape the consequences of natural disasters. Much of Horry County is low-lying wetland. In ecological terms, wetlands act as a sponge to absorb water. Rapid growth and development in Myrtle Beach and Conway means increasing amounts of wetland have been built on and paved over. When we have a major weather event there is simply nowhere left for the water to be absorbed, so it overtakes our homes, schools, and roads.
While some development is good for economic growth, we may be reaching a point of diminishing returns. County officials estimate the cost of recovery from Hurricane Florence at $19 million. Long-term costs will be shouldered by homeowners and taxpayers. Whether your home flooded or not, insurance premiums are likely to rise. We all pay the cost of rebuilding our roads, bridges, and schools.
Decisions made by small groups of powerful people have consequences for the entire community. Once properties are built and sold, costs of risky development projects are passed on to homeowners and taxpayers. It may be the buyer’s responsibility to ensure their property is not in a flood plain, but after the landscape is changed floodwaters can overtake areas that were formerly safe. Questionable development puts everyone at risk.
The answer is not to halt development in Horry County- but we can be smarter about it. Unless we want to rebuild Horry County every few years to the tune of millions of dollars each go round, we must make decisions to accommodate the modern shape of natural disasters. Additional roads and highways will make us more vulnerable to future floods, not less. We need to preserve wetlands, explore sustainable building options, and engage in countywide flood mitigation strategies.
Please consider contacting your elected officials. Tell them to fix flooding first rather than expanding development in ways that will make the problem worse.