Harborwalk damage, water pollution add to city's post-fire concerns
The Harborwalk boardwalk received more damage from the Front Street fire on Sept. 25 than was initially known.
And, a lot of the debris that is still in the river behind the destroyed buildings is food that will soon cause problems if not removed.
Those were two of the things revealed Wednesday when local, state and federal officials met for a brainstorming session to try to find funds to help those impacted by the fire in the 700 block of Front Street that destroyed seven buildings that housed 10 businesses.
Even though only a small area of the Harborwalk was damaged, it will be an expensive repair, Georgetown City Administrator Chris Carter said during the meeting, organized by S.C. Sen. Yancey McGill.
“Some of the pilings were charred. It has been structurally compromised,” Carter said, adding the cost of repair could be “$100,000 or up.”
Jonathan Heald, the city's Public Works director, agreed, telling McGill the area where the damage is located “is not structurally sound.” He said “putting a lot of traffic on it could be dangerous.”
Nicky Kellahan, owner of Kellahan and Associates Engineers, said he helped design the Harborwalk in the 1980s. He said the piers that connected the boardwalk with the businesses will be easy to replace but any Harborwalk damage will be more difficult.
Mayor Jack Scoville said council will discuss how to proceed with the Harborwalk repair at its workshop on Thursday.
There are things in the river behind the 700 block of Front Street that need to be removed before they cause more problems.
Georgetown County Emergency Management Director Sam Hodge said the river cleanup “may be a lengthy process.”
He said the day of the fire the Coast Guard did put booming in the water to keep any debris from spreading, so most of the problem is close to shore.
“There is a lot of food in the water that keeps coming up,” said City Fire Chief Joey Tanner. “I am just glad it's not July or August. This is going to be a problem soon.”
Carter said the river is the responsibility of the state.
“What's underneath that water is not pure,” Carter said, adding, besides food, there is a lot of other types of debris. He suggested getting cleanup assistance from Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (OCRM).
“We need to find funds for the water cleanup,” McGill said. He suggested the city see if there is any FEMA money through the Department of Natural Resources that can be used for that purpose.
Tanner said whatever happens with the water cleanup and with assistance for the fire victims needs to happen fast.
“Is there any way to speed up the process on a state level?” Tanner asked. “The longer everything stays dormant, the worse it is on everybody.”
Rebecca Schimsa, a representative for Gov. Nikki Haley who was at the meeting, said Haley is working hard to try to secure assistance for the city and victims.
“The governor will not let papers just sit on a desk,” Schimsa said.
Haley has already declared Front Street an emergency area. The order opens a funding stream that can be used to repair public property.
Up to $1 million is available that could be used for the Harborwalk repair and other city-owned property.
Decisions to be made
The owners of the destroyed buildings will have to decide how to deal with flood zone laws when building back.
Because they are commercial properties, they are not required to elevate the buildings but if they do not elevate they will not qualify for up $150,000 from the National Flood Insurance fund, according to Maria Cox Lamm — State National Flood Insurance Program coordinator for the Department of Natural Resources.
She said the money is not a guarantee since the buildings were destroyed by fire and not by flood but her office is working to try to find ways to help owners qualify for the assistance.
“We are looking for exemptions,” Lamm said. “We will need a waiver from FEMA.”
If the owners choose to not elevate, they will have to flood-proof the new buildings. The cost for that could be “astronomical” according to Lamm.
“It could price people out of building back,” Lamm said.
Kellahan said the flood-proofing may require the driving of pilings to “hold the buildings down” during a flood which would be expensive.
He also said it appears most of the bricks from the buildings have been salvaged and can be used to build the new facades.
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