Persistent flooding after downpours has Tami Rhodes ready to leave her home near Irmo even though it escaped major damage during last fall’s record rain.
“I definitely want to get out of here,” she said. “It’s stressful every time it rains.”
Rhodes is among homeowners eager to consider Lexington County’s plan to acquire and demolish residences in flood-prone parts of the Challedon neighborhood.
County officials are looking at using $6 million in federal disaster aid received after October’s floods to buy out homes along Kinley Creek, a stream that sometimes overflows in heavy rain. Which ones? It doesn’t matter how much damage a home sustained in October: It matters where it sits, county officials say.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is recommending razing some homes that line the creek after reviewing drainage problems in the watershed through which it flows, from Broad River Road south to the lower Saluda River.
Persistent flooding affects homes built along the creek in the 1960s and 1970s – before the adoption of controls that prevent people from building in flood-prone areas unless residences are elevated, the study said.
Commercial development in the area around Harbison Boulevard north of Challedon, built after the neighborhood was 30 years ago, has intensified the problem, as more and more stormwater empties into the creek.
Federal disaster aid gives Lexington County officials a long-wanted chance to tackle flooding along Kinley Creek in the Irmo-St. Andrews area.
Some homeowners in the area fear plans that might widen congested I-26 nearby will send more stormwater into the creek and its tributaries.
“The future is we’re going to get more and more inundated,” said Art Guerry, president of the homeowner association in the Whitehall neighborhood downstream of Challedon.
Problems along the creek are well-known to county officials, who have wrestled with finding a solution for more than 20 years.
Flood relief is a challenge for a county struggling to add deputies, firefighters and ambulance crews as well as improve roads to keep pace with steady growth.
The disaster aid gives officials a long-wanted chance to tackle the situation since it can be used to correct troubles as well as repair flood damage.
“We’ve got a good opportunity to get the ball rolling,” said County Councilman Phil Yarborough, who represents the Irmo-St. Andrews area.
For now, Challedon is the only neighborhood along the creek that qualifies under federal standards tied to income of its estimated 2,500 residents.
The tentative plan of county officials is to acquire and demolish 30 of the neighborhood’s 900 homes, offering owners the assessed value before last fall’s flood. They’re awaiting the federal OK to proceed.
But the number of buyout offers could change once interest among homeowners and the related price tag firms up.
Some owners of the 41 Challedon homes damaged in October floods may choose instead to receive aid to renovate their residences, gambling that the next creek overflows will be only sporadic nuisances.
But right now, repairs at some homes are slated to be finished before buyout offers arrive, leaving owners uncertain what to do.
“I’d prefer for it to hurry up and happen,” said Candance Dykes, whose home of 29 years is partly fixed. “I’m definitely interested.”
Venus White will weigh her options to decide if it’s worth continuing to repair the home her family bought a year ago or seek a buyout.
“Our home now is a construction site,” she said of living there amid renovations. “We’ll definitely explore it.”
Rhodes is among those ready to leave, even though her home of nine years largely escaped damage because it was elevated while being rebuilt after a fire in 2010.
She’s fed up with creek overflows that knock down the fence and leave debris in her backyard. “That kind of thing is becoming constant,” she said.
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer for homeowners, county community development director Charles Garren said.
Each decision “depends on the complexities” of many factors that will come into play, he said.
For some homeowners, it might be too expensive to move even with a buyout. For others, it might be easier to give up than make repairs. And county officials are concerned about the social impact of leveling swaths of homes.
The buyout offer could be extended later to other neighborhoods with flood-damaged homes if there’s not enough interest in Challedon.
It’s unclear what will happen to parcels left after homes are torn down, but there’s concern among residents about loitering.
Some Challedon residents hope the tracts become mini-parks, playgrounds or greenways with walking trails. “I’m not going to be opposed to green space anywhere,” said Andrea Fisher, who lives a block from three flood-damaged homes.
“Ultimately, the use of the property will be determined on a case-by-case,” Garren said. “Again, our goal will be to make certain the demolition of the building and re-use of the property will not be a detriment to the neighborhood but will bring value to the community.”
Plans call for a start on accepting buyout applications by Dec. 31, with approval of some requests as soon as spring, officials say.
Homeowners whose homes escaped damage expect to lose neighbors.
“I can understand people no longer wanting to live there,” said Marilyn Brown, who lives next to two flood-damaged homes. “My heart goes out to those people who lost so much – it’s overwhelming.”
Tim Flach: 803-771-8483