Charleston mayor forms new office to buffer city in face of changing climate

posted by Sam Tyson and Caroline Balchunas, WCIV - 

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) — Citing successes in the city's ongoing drainage project during Hurricane Matthew, first-term Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg announced the creation of a new director-level position to deal with changing climate conditions that will affect the city.

The Office of Emergency Management and Resilience will be headed by retired Coast Guard Capt. Mark Wilbert, who currently heads the city's emergency management agency.

Tecklenburg said in his State of the City address that Wilbert will be charged with making "our city more resilient to the effects of increased disasters, sea level rise and our changing weather."

Wilbert will use the city's sea level rise strategy as a place to start developing a long term plan for the city, Tecklenburg said.

The ongoing drainage projects on the Charleston peninsula showed the project is effective and successful already, Tecklenburg said. During Hurricane Matthew, they Market Street drainage tunnel and pump station cleared nearly 400 million gallons of water, he said.

That success, he says, will push forward projects in a half-dozen other areas around the city.

Tecklenburg applauded the city's first responders in Matthew as well, calling their work "amazing efforts" to keep the city safe.

The fire department's work is being expanded, Tecklenburg said, with fire stations in Carolina Bay and on Savannah Highway, as well as temporary spaces in Cainhoy.

"But despite all of these efforts and more, we know that sea level rise and extreme weather events are creating challenges that our city simply cannot solve with its existing practices and procedures," he said.

Tecklenburg also touched on the Illumination Project with city police that developed 86 new strategies to bring the department closer together with the communities it patrols.

"I believe the Illumination Project, overall, will become a national model for building trust between police and citizens," he said.

Turning to transportation, Tecklenburg said the city's plans for expanding the Mark Clark Expressway was getting back on track, and "we hope to have a recommitment with the State Infrastructure Bank that will finally get this essential transportation project moving."

Tecklenburg said a number of other roads projects were in the works thanks to the passage of the penny sales tax.

But possibly the largest transportation plan from the speech came from the mention of a regional bus system that would link Summerville to Charleston.

Closer to the peninsula, Tecklenburg said city leaders would take a look at the parking policies in place and review them, "top to bottom."

Much like his first address last year, Tuesday's address focused largely on the development of West Ashley. He called the plan something that would compare to the development of the peninsula in the 1970s and 80s.

"We’ve partnered with County and school officials to create a $69 million TIF district redevelopment fund. We’ve dedicated $37 million to West Ashley parks and capital projects, not counting drainage, through the next two years," he said.

He cited the greenspace project, bike programs, the new West Ashley Farmer's Market, and the start of the new senior center at the campus of Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital.

The speech even moved away from City Hall and was delivered from Founders Hall at Charles Towne Landing, in the heart of West Ashley.

Noting a few hot button issues for the city -- carriage horses, the cruise terminal, and the Sergeant Jasper development -- Tecklenburg said the city had developed a carriage horse pilot program to distribute carriage traffic as well as a plan to get horses off the street before temperatures reach 98 degrees, the limit for the carriages now. Without naming the ongoing debate over how to redevelop the Sergeant Jasper, he said the BAR was protected from a serious legal threat.

"I’m pleased to report that we were able to protect our Board of Architectural Review from the most significant legal challenge in its history -- thereby preserving our ability to control inappropriate design and development in the historic district as our city grows in the years ahead," Tecklenburg said.

The mayor noted the recreation department renovations on James Island, the upgrades at Camp and Folly roads, and the improved relationship with Mayor Bill Woolsey as a sign that the city was focused on every corner of its reach.

He said the city was moving forward on Daniel Island with a new park and boat landings, and even a community center for the island.

"But after serving as your mayor for the last year, I have had the honor of seeing our city at its very best. I’ve seen our citizens pull together in a hurricane. I’ve seen people from all walks of life volunteer their time and energy to make our neighborhoods stronger and better. I’ve seen the magnificent families of the Emanuel Nine inspire us all once again with their dignity and grace," he said.

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