By Karen Savage
The Atlantic Ocean has always lapped at Charleston’s shores, but with climate change steadily raising sea levels, that once-beloved water has become a menacing invader. City streets are now regularly inundated. Last year, the city experienced a record-breaking 89 days of sunny day flooding, which means the city was under water without a hint of bad weather.
“It affects every aspect of work that we do in the city of Charleston,” said Mark Wilbert, Charleston’s chief resilience officer and director of emergency management. “On those days, it requires police to be directing traffic, closing roads, moving people through the city in ways that they can safely get where they need to get.”
Once rare, 8-foot tides—which can stop the city in its tracks—have pushed into Charleston neighborhoods at least six times this year, tying a record set in 2015. On those days, outpatient medical procedures are canceled. Those who live in or must commute through low-lying areas are delayed and some can’t get out at all. Schools are forced to push back start times or release early to keep students and staff safe.
“Normal work is stopping and the city is pivoting to deal with these increased flooding events on the days and times that they occur,” Wilbert said, adding that the city can easily spend $10,000 per flooding event.
Charleston city leaders are keenly aware that in order to survive, the city must adapt, but that adaptation comes at a steep price. A recent $3 million study of coastal storm impacts, done in partnership with the Army Corp of Engineers, produced the potential solution of an 8-mile-long and 12-foot-high sea wall as well as other infrastructure improvements, including raising homes and roads. The estimated price tag: $1.75 billion.
Those staggering numbers are a big reason the city recently decided to try to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for these costs. It filed suit against ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, BP, Shell, Chevron, Marathon, and several other fossil fuel companies in September, alleging they have known for decades that their products drive climate change but deliberately have deceived the public, press and policy makers about that harm. The city is seeking compensatory damages, triple damages, and punitive damages.[Read more…]