One homeowner group in St. Andrews wants to address homes damaged by constant flooding along Kinley Creek with a new tax on neighbors.
The Whitehall Homeowners Association is developing a plan to create a district that could impose additional property taxes in three neighborhoods. Those taxes could be used, along with federal and state aid, to buy and demolish up to 36 homes in the most flood-prone areas.
Supporters of the idea describe it as blight prevention, removing homes likely to become rundown and possibly abandoned. They don’t want to wait on Lexington County to come up with the money because they don’t think the county will. Some of those homes were damaged in the record Oct. 4 rain, while others long have had problems with flooding.
Many details remain to be settled, such as the amount of taxes needed to produce an estimated $9 million to acquire and raze the homes. In addition, County Council – and possibly voters in the neighborhoods of Whitehall, Challedon and Country Walk – must agree to the step.
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Nearly 2,900 homes are in the three neighborhoods where the demolitions would occur and where the tax district could be established, according to the Central Midlands Council of Governments.
Whitehall Association leaders call the move a way to provide relief from Kinley Creek flooding that has eroded backyards and seeped into garages and crawl spaces for three decades.
“We’re pursuing it,” association president Art Guerry, a former county councilman, said of the plan. “It’s full steam ahead.”
Guerry and others say the plan is similar to what Forest Acres and Arcadia Lakes homeowners are proposing as a way to rebuild dams along a string of lakes that failed in Richland County on Oct. 4 and 5. Only this plan would pay for teardowns.
Challedon homeowner David Pointer, who’s 71, calls the once-bucolic stream a nightmare. “We thought it was a babbling brook, charming,” he said. “Now, it’s trouble.”
His home is among 99 in the three neighborhoods that a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study, performed before Oct. 4, says should be torn down.
Pointer is eager to leave his home of 40 years if given the chance.
“I’m just exhausted in dealing with it,” he said of the flooding.
Not everyone whose home would be eligible for demolition is likely to go.
The flooding of her home in Whitehall last fall was a first for Mary Ann Carter in 17 years living there. She’s repairing it, with no interest in leaving. “I’d rather stay,” she said.
The creek flows from Broad River Road south to the lower Saluda River. The persistent floods stem from development allowed along the water before the county adopted controls over the past 20 years that prevent building in flood-prone areas, the Corps’ study said.
Flooding intensified since the commercial area around Harbison Boulevard north of the neighborhoods developed in the 1980s and put more stormwater in the creek, according to the study.
The flow in the creek increased from 2,710 to 7,099 gallons per second between 1987 and 2012 during the 3.6-inch rains that happen about every two years, the study said.
“Much of the current infrastructure is not properly sized to handle current rainfall/runoff events,” it said.
The study was completed before the record rainfall Oct. 4 that county officials say flooded 73 homes in the three neighborhoods. Pine Glen, a neighborhood at the southern end of the creek, wasn’t included in the study. It had no problem prior to then. But on Oct. 4, the rain-swollen lower Saluda River backed up into it and flooded an estimated 125 homes there.
The study suggests buying and razing 47 to 99 homes and making several drainage improvements in the three neighborhoods, steps costing $18.5 million to $24.8 million.
Questions abound as to whether the Corps of Engineers’ ideas are affordable.
Would homes be bought at pre-flood market rates? Or would they be torn down first, then the land bought separately? And how much help will the federal aid provide?
Flood relief is a challenge for a county struggling to add deputies, firefighters and ambulance crews as well as improve roads.
It’s uncertain if “the county is going to have the ability to fund any of these (flood control) projects,” Council Council chairman Todd Cullum of Cayce said.
That’s why neighborhood leaders like Guerry are preparing to tackle the problem instead. “We’re going to have to improve it ourselves,” he said.
But there’s hope among residents that state and county officials would pay to improve drainage on roads, a step the study said would help.
Still, the changes suggested won’t stop the creek from overflowing at times, County Public Works Director Wrenn Barrett said. “Flooding itself cannot be eliminated,” he said.
But damage caused can be reduced significantly, Corps consultant William Lamb said. “We tried to focus on ones that would take the biggest bite out the problem,” he said of steps recommended.
Homeowners such as Pointer are impatient at what they consider longtime lip service on the problem.
The October flood left him camping in the upper level of his home as he awaits repairs.
“I saw whitecaps in my driveway – it was like being at the ocean,” Pointer said. “It’s past time to do something.”
Tim Flach: 803-771-8483