Letter to the editor: Environmental groups oppose Long Savannah development

Letter to the editor: Environmental groups oppose Long Savannah development
July 31 18:41 2020 Print This Article

This letter is a press release from four environmental groups – SC Environmental Law Project, Southern Environmental Law Center, Charleston Waterkeepers, and Sierra Club, concerning the impact the planned Long Savannah development would have on wetlands and flooding.

Long Savannah Project Would Destroy 209 Acres of Wetlands in Flood-Prone West Ashley

July 30, 2020
Ben Cunningham, Esquire,ben@scelp.org
Lauren Megill Milton, Esquire,lauren@scelp.org
South Carolina Environmental Law Project, (843) 527-0078
Mike Mather, Southern Environmental Law Center, cell/text (434) 333-9464 or emailmmather@selcva.org

The developer’s proposal would not only exacerbate West Ashley’s notorious flooding, it would destroy more than 200 acres of valuable wetland habitat and create a mixed-use development unaffordable for the majority of the present community, according to the appeal.

CHARLESTON, S.C. – Conservation groups are challenging the state environmental agency’s authorization of a 3,172.6-acre mixed use development in Charleston’s West Ashley—one of the largest proposed developments in the city’s history—and one that stands to threaten the health and livability of the community as it would allow the permanent destruction of 209 acres of wetlands.

On Thursday, the Sierra Club and South Carolina Wildlife Federation,represented by the South Carolina Environmental Law Project (SCELP), and the Charleston Waterkeeper, represented by theSouthern Environmental Law Center (SELC),filed Requests for a Contested Case Hearing with the South Carolina Administrative Law Court, asking the court to reverse South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control’s (DHEC) decisionto issue 401 Water Quality and Coastal Zone Consistency certifications for the Long Savannah project.

The groups point to a number of critical flaws with the proposed development:

“This development is not priced for the people who actually live in West Ashley,” SCELP attorney Lauren Megill Milton said. “So what the community is getting is a development that they cannot afford, that will destroy a precious habitat for wildlife that they enjoy watching and that will exacerbate floods that will destroy the affordable housing they already live in.”

“The Long Savannah Project mirrors other recent developments in the Lowcountry that lie in low areas. Conventional approaches not only cause the obliteration of natural drainage systems and destroy wetland habitats, they also do not take into account flooding due to a changing climate. This project should take a lesson from the Dutch Dialogues, a year long effort to conceptualize a more resilient Lowcountry by adapting developments to water systems, not adapting water systems to development,” said Sara Green, executive director of the South Carolina Wildlife Federation.

“This project is based on outdated ideas about where and how we can build in the Lowcountry. Outdated fill-and-build development is why West Ashley floods so bad and so often. We cannot continue down this road. We have to stop building in wetlands. The future of our community and health of our waterways depend on it,” said Charleston Waterkeeper Andrew Wunderley.

“Wetlands are critical to protecting life and property because they soak up large amounts of floodwaters. This massive filling of wetlands will devastate a community already experiencing years of repeated flooding,” said Ben Mack, chair of the Sierra Club of South Carolina.
The conservation groups have requested a contested case hearing and an order from the Administrative Law Court judge to reverse the certifications issued by DHEC staff.

  • DHEC’s authorizations allow filling 137 acres and excavating 72 acres of wetlands adjacent to Church and Rantowles Creeks. Wetlands provide numerous benefits for people and wildlife, include protecting and improving water quality, providing wildlife habitat and storing floodwaters. This type of “fill and build” activity is exactly what has led to repeated flooding in adjacent neighborhoods.  
  • Although the proposed construction will be conducted over a 30-year period, DHEC’s authorization failed to account for how climate change will affect flooding on the site over that period. More extreme storm events and potential sea level rise impacts on the property, such as in the area surrounding Rantowles Creek, must be considered to avoid placing more residents in harm’s way.
  • Further, DHEC failed to consider how this project impacts the economic stability of West Ashley. Under their own guidelines, the agency must evaluate the extent to which a project is in the national interest and includes consideration for the maintenance or improvement of the economic stability of the surrounding coastal community. The developers’ originally proposed average home price of $338,834 far exceeds the national, state and county definitions of affordable housing. In fact, it would be more expensive than 73 percent of the other homes in West Ashley.