Neal Pugliese, project manager for the City of Beaufort’s Downtown Drainage Study of the Old Point section of Beaufort, speaks on Friday, Feb. 18, at City Hall. About 30 city employees and concerned citizens attended the two-hour meeting. Photos by Bob Sofaly.

City addresses downtown flooding 

By Tony Kukulich 

To paraphrase a real estate axiom, there are three important factors to consider when discussing flooding in the Lowcountry — elevation, elevation and elevation. 

That point was driven home when the City of Beaufort held a public meeting to discuss a stormwater drainage study conducted in a 200-acre section of the city including the Point and other downtown areas. The $258,000 study was authorized in August 2021 and completed in December of that year. 

The study area is surrounded by water and is subject to recurring flooding as a result of heavy rain, high tides and storm surge. According to the report, current conditions require immediate action. However, whatever steps are taken, it is unlikely that every potential flooding scenario will be mitigated. 

Drainage issues in the city have been complicated by a one-foot sea-level rise over the past 100 years. Expectations are that ocean levels will continue to rise, but predictions about the severity of that increase vary widely, making planning difficult. 

One of several charts used to show priority areas of the Old Point area of downtown Beaufort’s drainage system.

“The City of Beaufort took a great step moving forward to say, ‘We are going to address these issues with the quality of life that we’re providing our citizens here in Beaufort,’” said project manager Neal Pugliese. “What makes this so much of a challenging problem is the density of the area. You see all these structures, all these residences tightly packed together.” 

Since 2017, efforts to improve drainage have reduced the number of problem areas in the city from nine to four. 

“That shows the dedication the city has got to resolving this issue,” Pugliese said. “The city is very good at draining prioritization. Water in ditches is a good thing. Water in living rooms is not a good thing. We want to make sure we’re taking care of those areas where we’ve got special flooding, water in living rooms.” 

Funding to complete that has come largely from grants and the study confirmed that solutions to flooding issues cannot be supported solely through normal tax increases, making the acquisition of grants a critical piece of the solution puzzle. 

In the short term, efforts are under way to resolve as many of the issues identified by the study as possible before the onset of the 2022 hurricane season. While the season officially starts in August, the city is targeting a May completion date for objectives like clear storm drains that are presently clogged with silt or other materials. Pugliese warned that the effort will likely result in some disruption for city residents, but efforts will be made to provide as much advance notice as possible to the impacted neighborhoods. The design stage for long-term flooding solutions is expected to begin in August. 

Tony Kukulich is a recent transplant to the Lowcountry. A native of Wilmington, Del., he comes to The Island News from the San Francisco Bay Area where he spent seven years as a reporter and photographer for several publications. He and his wife enjoy exploring their new home state. He can also frequently be found playing bass guitar with a couple of local bands. He can be reached at tony. theislandnews@gmail.com. 

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