Charleston nearing agreement with Army Corps of Engineers on storm surge project

The city of Charleston says they are nearing a design agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers to build a storm surge protection barrier on the peninsula.
Published: Jul. 26, 2023 at 4:08 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 26, 2023 at 6:13 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The city of Charleston says they are nearing a design agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers to build a storm surge protection barrier on the peninsula.

Chief Resilience Officer Dale Morris said the city has spent the last several years studying to see if it’s possible to build the project. They just wrapped that up and said it is possible to build it.

“This project is essential to the future of the City of Charleston,” Morris said. “There is no doubt in my mind that if we do not do this project, we will have substantial regret.”

There are no official pictures of what the storm surge barrier would look like. City officials said they want it to look like the Low Battery along Murray Boulevard and not a high concrete wall.

“We imagine that being the structure and just like the Low Battery and High Battery, you can walk on top of it as a pedestrian multifunctional facility, not just an ugly wall,” Morris said.

Historic Charleston Foundation Chief Advocacy Officer Cashion Drolet agreed with the city’s choice on design.

“We’re not interested in a monolithic concrete structure that really obstructs what makes Charleston, Charleston,” Drolet said.

Current estimations suggest the project would cost around $1.3 billion. The city would be responsible for around $300 million should it be approved.

“Our drainage systems are compromised. Our tidal management is becoming more challenging,” Morris said. “This is going to require the whole of government, whole city effort to make sure we can stay here. That’s our job is to make sure we can stay here safely, wisely, keep our beautiful city and also keep the economy functioning.”

Morris said a negotiated design agreement with the Army Corps allows the project to come before the council for a potential vote later this year.

If approved and funded, the project would move into the first of four pre-construction design and engineering phases, stretching from the Citadel to the Coast Guard station.

“We have to set the alignment first, so we’re going to review the alignment and make changes to it, make it more rational for us,” Morris said. “Then, we will start working on the design. What it looks like—again, where it goes, what it looks like, how people approach it, what people can do with it and the other benefits we can derive from it.”

Morris said water levels in Charleston Harbor have gone up 13 inches in the past 100 years. It is expected to rise by another 14 inches in the next 25 to 30 years in addition to the storm surge risks.

“We are a 1670s, 1680s city that’s got 21st century problems,” Drolet said.

Morris hopes to have the agreement negotiated around October and to start the pre-construction process early next year.

The city said once that process starts, they will have several mandatory public meetings to get feedback on the project.