U.S. Army Corps of Engineers interested in studying Waccamaw River, county staff say

The Waccamaw River at Conway (Josh Davis/WPDE)

Amid several river communities dealing with floodwaters, county staff and officials met virtually to discuss flooding.

The Infrastructure and Regulation subcommittee on flooding met Friday morning to discuss an array of issues from the Army Corps of Engineers to the status of the home buyout program.

The first update was about the Corps. Staff said they went out with the ACOE at the beginning of February along the Waccamaw River above and below Highway 9.

During the trip, the staff with both agencies took notes of the river. Among those was the discussion of a snag and drag effort to remove large tree debris in the water.

Staff said following the trip, officials with the ACOE shared their interest in sending a request for funding to Congress to perform a broader feasibility study on the river.

“Where they are now, they are finishing up their letter to send to Atlanta to determine that they can get their approval,” said county stormwater director Thom Roth. ”As far as the local Corps in Charleston, they feel that there should be interest.”

RELATED: An effort to prevent future Waccamaw River flooding crosses state lines

ABC 15 has reported that the Corps met with county leaders back in the fall to begin a conversation about the river. Staff shared several documents during today's meeting that were correspondence from the county government and Horry County state delegation seeking the ACOE to come into the county and look at the waterway to assess flooding mitigation or resiliency.

Roth said the Corps and the county are looking at undertaking an approximately half-million dollar effort to see what parts of the river need work through the feasibility study. That's because the program they'd be apart of would be capped at that amount allocated to use. Roth said 1/5 of that would be paid by the Corps and then 35% cost of whatever needs to be done will be handled by the county.

Rep. William Bailey pointed out that roughly $300,000 would be available in state funds that county delegates agreed to reallocate to river clearing efforts. To be clear, that agreement states that the $125,000 in parks funds given to the delegation would be used from 2020,2021 and 2022.

RELATED: Water worries: Work to reduce Waccamaw River flooding expands to state, federal partners

However, staff said work on the river would be ongoing as they wait for the bureaucratic process in Washington to play out.

“I’m trying to determine if we can go ahead and do something, without waiting,” said Rep. Kevin Hardee. “I know we need a study, we need a comprehensive study, but we can remove some debris from the river without that I think.”

Committee member and flood victim advocate, April O'Leary, challenged the anxiousness to begin work on the river before a full study has been performed and money begins to flow into the county.

“Some of these projects are really to improve navigability and not necessarily improve conveyance,” O'Leary said. “I would like as a committee to focus on helping the most vulnerable areas first, and having that be a priority.” “I’m concerned when I’m starting to hear some of these numbers, what are we saving? Who are we protecting? What are we helping? Going after these projects, and I’d like to make sure that we are doing that analysis.”

New analysis did come in the morning meeting from out of state, however. Coastal geologist Rob Young presented the subcommittee with the findings from a supplemental flood map project conducted by Western Carolina University and Duke Univerity at the request of county leaders.

“No other municipality to my knowledge has done this,” said Young.

What Young and his team found on these maps may be used in the county's overall resiliency plan. The goal of his study was to see where the FEMA flood maps come up short, if they do, in relation to flood zones.

“There were some places where the FEMA, even the new FEMA flood maps did not do a very good job predicting where the damage was during Florence,” Young said.

Young said the institute launched a LIDAR-supported mapping of the county and looked at areas where the impacts of Hurricane Florence were documented. From that, they expanded in many parts where the zone for potential flooding maybe along the Waccamaw River.

Polo Farms during Hurricane Florence (WCU)

In closing, Young gave some advice to county leaders.

“The best way to prevent flood damage in the future is to make sure that people are doing the right thing when they build the next house,” Young said. “The cost of elevating these properties is peanuts compared to the cost of damage and cleanup and inconvenience."

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