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Army Corps of Engineers months away from releasing Charleston Peninsula flood wall draft report

Updated: Jun. 2, 2021 at 7:49 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The Army Corps of Engineers gave a city committee an update Wednesday morning on the timeline of a flood wall project designed to protect the peninsula for decades to come.

Currently, plans call for releasing an updated Draft Environmental Impact Statement to the public in September, when there will be several public meetings for people to share their thoughts. That feedback will then be used to create the final Environmental Impact Statement, which is scheduled to be done next May.

“The environmental impact statement is going to focus on three main areas: environmental justice, the environment and then cultural and historical areas,” Mark Wilbert, the city’s senior policy advisor for resiliency, said.

Wilbert added the community wanted to see the additional work done despite it adding several months to the timeline. Previously, an environmental assessment – one step below an environmental impact statement – had been conducted.

The Corps is also working on updated cost figures for the 12-foot perimeter wall that would surround most of the peninsula. Right now, it’s estimated to cost more than $1.75 billion, but current estimates put the project’s benefit at $2.20 for every dollar spent.

Sixty-five percent of the money for the project will come from the federal government, with the city being responsible for the rest. The government covered the entire $4 million for the study into the project’s feasibility.

In March, public meetings to get feedback on the flood wall idea drew 750 comments, which the Corps is still reviewing as part of its efforts.

“It’s a high-visibility project and we appreciate it because the community… it’s important to them and we understand that,” USACE Charleston Project Manager Wes Wilson said.

The project is still in the feasibility phase, and design work will take around three years when it starts – tentatively set for next year. Still, some planning is underway.

“We made some changes moving the storm surge wall up through the marsh to high ground,” Wilson said. “Construction in the marsh is about two-and-a-half times more expensive, and (moving the wall is) also more environmentally sound.”

While the project is still at least a year from the design phase, the city and the Corps are working to hit the ground running when all the pieces fall into place.

“That’s going to be the future for the entire coast. Projects like these are going to be ways to preserve people living along the coast,” Wilbert said. “There’s going to be a cost.”

Construction could take around seven years, so it’s expected to be at least a decade before the project is completed.

Also Wednesday morning, the city’s Army Corps 3x3 Committee recommended a more comprehensive water plan be worked on before the storm barrier gets to the design phase. That recommendation now heads to the city council.

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