James Island residents upset with city work on drainage ditches

Updated: May. 18, 2021 at 5:02 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - In 31 years of living in the Creek Point neighborhood on James Island, Jeannie and Gary Kaasa say they’ve never seen the area flood.

Thinking their area safe, the Kaasas say they and their neighbors were confused when the City of Charleston began working on stormwater improvements.

These improvements are part of the city’s five-year effort to restore 228 miles of drainage ditches. The goal is to alleviate flooding, but the work underway in the Creek Point neighborhood is irritating residents.

“It was supposed to be a ditch but it’s more like a trench,” Jeannie Kaasa said. “It’s horrible, it’s ugly, it’s defacing, it’s destabilized our property.”

Other neighbors have questions about everything from their property values to the safety of their children and pets who play outdoors.

“My son is seven. We have about literally 12 children that are right here at this T intersection that ride their bikes here and there. We’ve taught them all really good safety practices. They’ll pull over to the side of the road if a car’s coming; now they can just pull over into an unstable ditch,” 11-month resident Paige Collins said.

Charleston Stormwater Department Director Matthew Fountain said the drainage ditches have historically not been maintained as well as they should have been, making the current work necessary.

The neighborhood sits along Wolfpit Run and Simpson Creek, so water isn’t far away.

“This watershed, this 900-acre watershed or basin, was the number one rated flood risk for the 30 different watersheds that were identified within the island,” Fountain said.

Since the work is taking place in a city right-of-way, stormwater department funds cannot be used for aesthetic improvements like re-sodding the land when the trenches are dug, Fountain said, adding vegetation typically grows back within one growing season.

Still, the work needs to be done to prevent future issues.

“It’s somewhat similar to saying ‘My car is running really well so I don’t need to get an oil change,’ right? Things work really well until a lack of maintenance causes a catastrophic failure,” he said.

Installing pipes and re-covering the ground would be less effective and is also considered an aesthetic improvement, he added.

Some, like the Kaasas, have looked into paying to have their yards fitted with pipes. The price tag, they said, came in at around $4,000.

Until time and Mother Nature wear away the rough edges, residents in the neighborhood are left with a deep scar across their lawns, a solution they’re not happy with.

“Fix what you messed up, finish the job and just use common sense. This is not okay,” Collins said.

The city is approximately 85 miles into the 225-mile project.

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