Progress for Who?
In Charleston, South Carolina and its suburbs questions of environmental justice and wetland protections arise as development encroaches.
In Charleston, South Carolina and its suburbs, questions of environmental justice and wetland protections arise as development encroaches.
BROKEN GROUND SEASON #3 EPISODE #4
“PROGRESS FOR WHO?”
By Paige Polk
RICHARD HABERSHAM: When I first moved here, I wasn’t considered in a flood zone. My elevation was eleven feet above sea level. Ten feet, I would have had to elevate. But now they’re saying that we are in a flood zone and this wasn’t when I first moved here. The last couple of storms that came in, the water came all the way in my yard. But the last one, it came into my garage.
CLAUDINE EBEID-MCELWAIN: We’re not near the water. We’re not — like, I can’t see the water from your house.
HOST: Richard Habersham lives in the Phillips community in Mount Pleasant, a suburb of Charleston, South Carolina. This area couldn’t be more different from bustling downtown Charleston, about a half-hour away. The Phillips community is made up of a mix of one-story homes that look as though they’ve been here a while and a smattering of newly built bigger homes. The neighborhood feels like it was once rural but with the faint sound of the highway in the background, it feels like it’s now turning into something else. But the Phillips Community does share one big similarity with downtown Charleston: encroaching waters. For Richard Habersham. that’s a nearby creek and the Wando River. And as builders develop on more of the wetlands and floodplains in the Mount Pleasant area, and seas rise and rainstorms become more extreme, the drainage problem is getting worse.
RICHARD: They don’t take in fact that when you build all the community, the water, the drainage problem. Well, we looking at that tax base, we need more people to come in for the tax base. But when you, when you bring in all these homes, they didn’t think about where’s that waters going at? How that going to affect us? So they really didn’t care!
[THEME MUSIC IN]
HOST: This is Broken Ground, a podcast about environmental stories in the South and the people at the heart of them. I’m Claudine Ebeid McElwain. In our last episode, we were in Norfolk, Virginia where we met a woman who’s struggling to stay afloat in her flooded home.
KAREN SPEIGHTS: But people will say why don’t you just move? But it’s not that easy to just pick up your life and start over. It takes money.
HOST: If you missed that episode, we hope you’ll go back and listen. In this episode, we return to Charleston, South Carolina, where everyone who calls the city home has to deal with the reality of intense flooding. But unlike in Norfolk, this area isn’t completely developed. There are still natural flooding mitigation systems, like forests and wetlands throughout the city and surrounding county. But mega-developers are building homes for 160,000 incoming residents — much of it on the county’s rural edges. And it’s causing a serious flooding problem for current residents.
[THEME MUSIC OUT]
HOST: But first: back to Richard Habersham. Here in the Phillips Community, he’s the resident historian. And he has the maps to prove it.
RICHARD: Well, let’s see if I got that one. Yeah.
CLAUDINE: What’s this?
RICHARD: This is the original map when they started buying property. This was all Philips, but these are the first people that bought property.
CLAUDINE: All the people that bought property here, were they all formerly enslaved people?
RICHARD: Yes. You’re looking at 13 years after slavery.
CLAUDINE: And your great …
CLAUDINE: … grandfather was one of those people?
RICHARD: Yeah. His I think was somewhere right up in here.
CLAUDINE: Is that, is that where we are right now?
RICHARD: No, no, no, no, no, no. We, we are somewhere over here.
CLAUDINE: A little bit over?
RICHARD: Yeah. We on this side.
CLAUDINE: Do you know who’s in that, in that piece of property?
RICHARD: Yeah, my brothers.
CLAUDINE: Your brothers!
RICHARD: Yeah. Like I said, most of these properties here you’re looking at, the family is still there.
CLAUDINE: So this land has been passed down in your family since 18 …
HOST: Richard bought his own house 30 years ago, just down the road from his family’s land in this settlement community, but still within Phillips. He raised four daughters here.
RICHARD: I was a single father. At times, I used to have a house full of girls. My daughters and them, sometimes they little cousin come in, my nieces come in, and my sister come down with their kids. Everybody, this was the hangout spot.
HOST: Part of what Richard says he loves about living here is the sense of community. His girls grew up knowing their neighbors.
RICHARD: My daughters used to come here and used to ride bikes. I put them on the bike, put them on the sidewalk, go, you know, it wasn’t no big thing. Everybody knew who they were. I wasn’t, I wasn’t afraid that, that something’s going to happen to them riding the bike going down.
HOST: It used to be pretty rural out here. But over the last 30 years, Richard’s community has been increasingly boxed in by new housing developments, largely being built to house newcomers to the area. There’s quite a variety, ranging from single family homes, townhouses, and condos, to live-work residences and assisted living. The new neighborhoods are featured as a big draw in promotional videos for the area.
NARRATOR: Welcome to the Town of Mount Pleasant, located across the harbor from Charleston in the beautiful South Carolina low country. The town was named for the 18th century plantation, Mount Pleasant.
HOST: These new developments would be enough to change the character of any rural neighborhood, but there’s a bigger problem. They’re being built on undeveloped land, which is, in many cases, wetlands.
JENNY BRENNAN: Hard to throw a stone and not hit a wetland in this part of the state.
HOST: That’s Jenny Brennan, a Science and Policy Associate in our Southern Environmental Law Center’s Charleston office. She grew up in Moncks Corner, 45 minutes north of Charleston.
JENNY: There’s so many forested wetlands. My drive from Charleston to go home to Moncks Corner used to be a lot more trees. Since then, the growth in Charleston has just exploded and more and more homes have been put up and a lot of those wetlands have been filled.
HOST: These days, with seas rising and heavier rain storms due to climate change, there is growing appreciation for just how much water wetlands can hold. They’re basically sponges. And forested wetlands don’t just store water, they also suck it up through their tree roots and release it into the atmosphere through something called “evapotranspiration.”
JENNY: 75% of the water that flows into your average forested wetland around here is released just through evapotranspiration. And a floodplain wetland also acts as this extra room for the river to expand and really let loose some of that water that it’s carrying.
HOST: And, if that’s not clear, she says think of Thanksgiving …
JENNY: You’ve had a lot to eat and your pant size goes up a little bit. Like it’s basically what the river is trying to do with the floodplain. And when we develop in the flood plain and restrict that extra area for the river to expand into, we’re basically forcing the river to wear a belt. And if you leave those floodplain wetlands natural, you don’t have homes in there, they can actually protect downstream urbanized areas. We saw this in Conway and Georgetown following hurricane Florence.
HOST: Florence hit the Carolinas as a category one hurricane on September 14, 2018, and it wreaked havoc along the coast. But further inland, it was the flooding that occurred in the weeks afterwards that did the real damage.
NEWS CLIP FROM FOX BUSINESS NETWORK
NEWS ANCHOR: (music) Officials saying at least 16 rivers in North and South Carolina remain at major flood stage in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence …
NEWS CLIP FROM NPR ALL THINGS CONSIDRED
ARI SHAPIRO: We know that some people have already died in this storm. What are the biggest threats going into the weekend?
REBECCA HERSHER: It’s the flooding. You know, freshwater flooding is THE big killer in hurricanes.
NEWS CLIP FROM FOX BUSINESS NETWORK
REPORTER: We’re talking about hundreds, hundreds of rescues that have happened and maybe, definitely more are probably going to happen tomorrow and Saturday because well, people — it’s a false sense of security, the sun’s out, people don’t think it’s bad, and then all of a sudden the water keeps rising.
JENNY: In many ways, the degradation of wetlands in this area affects all of us because we have lost an unknown amount of water filtration capacity, in addition to the habitat and the wildlife benefits.
RICHARD: Let me show y’all something …
HOST: For Richard Habersham, losing wetlands makes for a regular flooding problem. But it’s also why he says he’s having trouble with the pear tree in his front yard.
RICHARD: Every year this pear tree be loaded. I haven’t eaten one pear off this tree yet, I haven’t gotten one because of the wildlife. In our community, we got a lot of undeveloped property and it’s wooded, so they push all the wildlife over here. Before, very seldom you’d see a deer. Now sometime in the afternoon, especially in the summertime there, you might see five or six deers right here under this tree, eating the pears. It’s just like the water how the water’s being pushed on us, the wildlife and everything is being pushed over here.
HOST: And to add insult to injury, the county now wants to widen the highway along the roughly five-mile stretch that passes near Richard’s neighborhood, to accomodate all the new traffic. Highway 41 is a major thoroughfare that connects areas in Mt. Pleasant to Highway 17 and another growing nearby county. Some of the many environmental concerns from surrounding neighborhoods, like the Phillips community, include the encroachment on wetlands, the effect on endangered species habitats, worsening air quality, and of course, flooding.
RICHARD: They got over 3,500 homes in Dunes West and Park West. They knew you going to add over 7,000 cars or more. Where all them cars going at? They coming right back on 41. You know, two more lanes of asphalt. Where that water — that water going to come, you know, affect us. It going to come back in the community.
JENNY: One of our concerns with Highway 41 and its current route, you know, it could create this damming effect and cause even more water to be trapped in the Phillips community on that one side of the road and worsen their flooding problems.
HOST: This gets at something we’ve talked about in previous episodes. Building may be inevitable in growing communities, but we have the science and information to ensure projects are not poorly built. When it comes to Highway 41, SELC is exploring alternatives.
JENNY: Right now, highway 41 goes through a pretty vulnerable area. It’s right next to a creek and other waterways in several parts, and when you’re driving on it, you can look over at certain points and the tidal marsh is right there next to the roadway. But that alternative route that avoids Richard Habersham and the Phillips community would also redirect a section of the road away from the floodplain to higher ground.
HOST: Back before all of these new homes were built in the area around the Phillips community, the stormwater retention system — basically a series of ditches — worked really well.
RICHARD: When I first moved here, it wasn’t a big problem.
RICHARD: When they, when they built up all these subdivisions and, and they had to fill in. You know, they may tell you that was high ground, but most of that stuff was low laying. So they had to haul in a ton of dirt just to elevate it. So now instead of that water going away from us, that water off the subdivision is coming toward us.
HOST: Despite Richard’s growing flood problem, his land has never been more valuable to developers who want to build much denser housing on it.
RICHARD: I get letters all the time. Sometimes I get two or three letters a day, asking me “I want to buy your property.
CLAUDINE: Are those letters from developers?
RICHARD: Developers. Yeah.
CLAUDINE: How much would somebody have to offer you for your land and your house for you to move?
RICHARD: I’m not moving. I’m not moving. Where am I going to get this other quality of life? You know, I used to drive a truck, you know, I gotta get rid of those tires, but if I go move in a subdivision, I couldn’t have that. I plan on buying a boat. So, it’s, like I said, it’s that quality of life.
HOST: Of course, Richard is a realist. He knows that the county is concerned with its tax base, and that it could likely make a LOT more money in property taxes if there were a dozen new homes on Richard’s land, instead of his modest one-story home.
RICHARD: If they can get rid of all of the settlement community, Mount Pleasant would be happy. And I’m not trying to be racist or black or white because the white family in Mount Pleasant that have originally been here, there’ve been displaced just like the black families. They don’t discriminate when they run everybody off! The white family and the black families is leaving, you know. The only thing, the black family, they kept more of their property because of the heirs’ property thing.
HOST: “Heirs’ property” That’s H-E-I-R-s, like “heir to the throne.” Richard Habersham’s family, and many others in the Phillips community own their homes and land through what’s called heirs’ property status.
HOPE WATSON: In general in South Carolina, heirs’ property is a property that’s owned, still titled in the name of someone who has died and that person has been deceased for at least 10 years so that it’s too late for the family to do a probate.
HOST: This is Attorney Danielle Hope Watson of the Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation in Charleston, South Carolina. What she’s describing is a type of land ownership especially common for land acquired by African Americans after the Civil War. Because Black people were denied access to the legal system during slavery, and many understandably did not trust the system once they finally did have access, many Black families passed property to future generations in this way. As of 2019, the Center mapped out 100,000 acres of heirs’ property in South Carolina alone.
HOPE: The result of it is, is that that now deceased land owner’s survivors, that person’s heirs, if they did not leave a will, are now co-owners of the property together, but their names and ownership status is not officially of record in a way that they can act on that ownership.
HOST: So instead of owning a property outright, a person owns a share of their property.
HOPE: So some of the distrust within the legal system and just some of the way families evolve and different personalities emerge over time, end up continuing the dangerous status of heirs’ property within our communities.
HOST: Dangerous because without a will or a probate, owners could lose their property in a tax sale in the event of a disaster — which has become increasingly likely with climate change and sea level rise.
HOPE: Whether it’s a hurricane or flood or sometimes just a fire, if the family is low income or can’t afford otherwise to repair or rebuild their home, they will have significant difficulties either getting a mortgage or qualifying for state or federal assistance in order to get their homes repaired or rebuilt.
HOST: In other words, families like Richard Habersham’s could be cut out of any FEMA programs. No disaster aid. No lifting homes out of the floodplain. No buyouts. Of course, Richard’s not looking for a buyout. He has no intention of leaving the land his family has owned for nearly 150 years. But if you’ve ever wondered whether climate change would impact us all equally, the way FEMA ignores heirs’ properties is proof of the systemic racism built into our response to climate change. In the meantime, Richard and his community are working with the county to address the flooding in the area. But as we head back to downtown Charleston, we found another man with deep historical roots in this area who is also thinking about how to mitigate flooding, but on a grander scale. Al George is the Director of Conservation for the Charleston Aquarium.
AL GEORGE: So I joke about being Gullah Geechee for real, you know, that, um, you know, the line of demarcation of Gullah Geechee is, you know, south or north of the Savannah river. So I tell people I survived transversing the river and I lived, I’ve lived to tell the story.
HOST: Al is Gullah Geechee, a people in the Georgia and South Carolina lowcountry who are descendants of formerly enslaved people and have maintained their unique cultural heritage. He credits a strong family and his science community for his career in marine biology.
AL: Whatever I’ve achieved, I credit that to my grandmother, to my mother. Like most young men, I wanted to be a football star. But my grandma, you were not going to have a detailed conversation with her if she told you. And she was the one who basically, um, told me that I was going to go to Savannah State University, and I was gonna accept a scholarship. I didn’t know what I was going to study when I arrived, but Grandma gave me my marching orders.
HOST: During his first year at Savannah State, Al says he heard about a free spring break trip, and jumped at the chance to go.
AL: I heard free, I heard spring break trip, not knowing that it was going to be a Mister Miagi style of, of um, you know, of learning marine biology as we made our way down to the Keys. It just blew my mind. It was really through people who I still credit, you know, as my academic fathers, who made me believe that a Gullah Geechee young man from the low country could contribute to science, um, even when I didn’t think I could.
HOST: One reason we came to the South Carolina Aquarium was because the aquarium itself sits on the Charleston Harbor, which has already seen a foot of sea level rise over the last 80 years. Part of what Al is working on is a program to get everyday citizens involved in sharing data that could help address flooding and sea level rise in Charleston.
AL: We launched an initiative called the Resilience Initiative for Coastal Education, it spells RICE, about four years ago. A big part of what we try to do is we want to make everyone aware, even the non-elite scientific and policy people that these are the changes that’s happening. But the other piece of it is that we also want that data from the community, from the constituency.
HOST: Part of the RICE initiative is an app called “Sea Rise” that lets people upload photos and real-time observations of what’s going on with the land and water around them. People can report routine storm drain build up, repeated flooding. Al says all of this contributes to the research. More data means more informed and more localized science.
AL: One example win in my book is through one of these endeavors where we were working with the Maryville community, they made us aware of a huge marsh die off that was occurring. A lot of people thought that the marsh die off was a result of maybe illegal dumping or some type of illegal discharge or illicit discharge. And so people have had literally hundreds of years of history with this biome were afraid of it. You know, people who literally lived off this sort of source of nourishment. all of a sudden, were telling their kids and telling everybody in the community, do not fish, do not go in this water because we don’t know what’s going on.
HOST: After community members uploaded pictures of the die-off to the RICE app, the aquarium was able to get input from Dr. James T. Morris, one of the world’s foremost experts on marsh ecology. And here’s what the team discovered
AL: It wasn’t an illicit discharge, it was a function of the changing sediment levels, which was augmenting the flow of the water, which for that specific strand of Spartina Alterniflora, it was no longer optimal under those conditions.
HOST: You want me to translate? For those of us without Al’s Master’s in Science from the Georgia Institute of Technology, he’s basically saying that the marsh grass was dying, probably due to climate change.
AL: The question is: how do you empower the people to be a part of the process and to be a part of not only the data acquisition but to be a part of the solutions? A big part of the RICE initiative is how do you give those communities that traditionally have not been heard — like the Gullah Geechee communities, you know, these people who live on the sea islands — who best to articulate the changes that’s occurring on the sea islands than the people who live there every day?
CLAUDINE: Given what’s happening with flooding, given the climate change, given the really strong storms with lots of water getting dumped on South Carolina, how much longer is it sustainable for the Gullah Geechee people to continue living where they’re living and how they’re living?
AL: Well that’s the billion, trillion dollar question, right? And that’s been one of my key points of advocacy that a lot of people throw around the word retreat, you know, but my thing is you can’t throw around the word retreat if you don’t have a plan for everyone.
HOST: A big part of advocacy is also making sure folks know what options are available to them. Could they get help raising their home? Could they be bought out? This is especially true for retreat, even though Jenny Brennan says that process is sensitive to talk about.
JENNY: Managed retreat is often a sticky subject. And as a result, a lot of groups and governments are really hesitant to openly discuss it.
NEWS CLIP FROM WCBD NEWS 2 – SHADOWMOSS NEIGHBORHOOD UNDERWATER – OCT. 4, 2015
REPORTER: (rain) More of the same for Shadowmoss Plantation.
RESIDENT: I mean, it’s pretty bad when you gotta take a blow-up raft to go get your mail out of the mailbox.
REPORTER: Several other neighborhood roads still waist deep.
RESIDENT: To me, it was worse than a hurricane, because you don’t know how much the water’s going to rise.
JENNY: You know, what we’re seeing right now is unmanaged retreat and that’s mostly being done with FEMA buyouts. In Charleston, we have a community in West Ashley that’s been repetitively flooded, I think, you know, four times in the past five years.
NEWS CLIP FROM WCBD NEWS 2 – WEST ASHLEY HOMEOWNERS SICK OF FLOODING – SEPT. 12, 2017
REPORTER: This is now a way of life for Randy Harley. Nothing on the floor of his West Ashley home, his truck doubles as a boat, and he says he’s disappointed with the city that they haven’t fixed the problem.
RANDY HARLEY: I really think that I’ve lost a great deal of value because of this flooding, even if I can sell it, I would take a big loss.
JENNY: There’s a lot more demand for flooded home buyouts than there is funding to complete it.
NEWS CLIP FROM WCBD NEWS 2 – SHADOWMOSS DEMOLITION – MAY 1, 2019
ANCHOR: Homes and condos demolished as the city of Charleston and FEMA are working to tear down flood-prone homes in the Church Creek Basin area of West Ashley.
JENNY: These buyouts are all happening more on a, almost a whack-a-mole basis, and there’s not a coordinated plan as you would have under managed retreat for what areas should we really be focusing on.
HOST: And without a plan that accounts for everyone, everyone doesn’t get counted. A key factor in environmental justice is that all communities can make informed decisions and that no one bears a disproportionate share of negative consequences. Do we have an equity plan when it comes to preparing for sea level rise? Charleston County doesn’t have a team dedicated to sea-level rise, but the city does, so my producer Paige Polk and I put this question to the City of Charleston’s Resilience team.
MARK WILBERT: I think we’re all gonna have to look around and say, maybe there’s places that we shouldn’t be living and maybe we need to get out of those places.
HOST: You might recognize this voice from our last Charleston episode. This is Mark Wilbert, the Chief Resilience Officer for the City of Charleston.
MARK: We’re seeing that with FEMA buyouts right now. We just bought 50 something homes out in the last couple of years. You’ve got communities all over the East Coast right now that are getting ready to buy out a lot of homes. There’s places that we’ve built that we should not have built. And probably the best thing to do is move people out of there.
CLAUDINE: So once, um, once you’ve bought out homes, what’s the next step? Do you buy out those homes, you demolish those homes, I imagine, and then what happens to the land?
MARK: The land can never be built on again, so there’s an easement put on it that it can never be built again. It comes to the city. The city actually purchases the land. Um, and we are going through right now what the various options are. Maybe we just leave it green. Maybe we can give it to a neighborhood association that’s going to leave it vacant, but maybe they want to take care of it for us as a little pocket park. There’s all kinds of options.
CLAUDINE: But when do you start to make those hard decisions of like, a structure might be historic but it needs to not be here anymore. Has that ever happened? Have we gotten to that point?
MARK: No. We have not. And I suspect — I suspect we’re a long way from that. Our historic structures, the history of Charleston, it’s a national treasure. There may come a time way into the future that we have to make those hard decisions, but really do we want to start giving that up right now? I mean that’s not the direction. That’s not the first thing you give up. That’s what you fight to protect.
HOST: This begs a question for me, though, about what KIND of history we protect. Many would agree that the postcard-perfect 19th century homes on the Battery are worth trying to preserve. But what about the kind of history that Richard Habersham is trying to preserve in the Phillips Community? Tourists won’t be driving past his house to snap photos, but he and his ancestors have deep, deep roots in that former plantation. Roots that probably say more about Charleston than the Battery houses ever will.
CLAUDINE: So, how do we start to make those kinds of decisions and not prioritize them by people who have the most money and the most power and can be a squeaky wheel? And that’s a very big and difficult question, but I imagine one that you all consider even in the city of Charleston.
MARK: Well, I think the first step is, is it practical? So is there a practical solution? We’re not going to be able to wall in the world from the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. We’re just not. So if you live in an area that’s tidally influenced and you live close to the water, you’re really at risk, okay? And you can’t expect the government to come in and build a wall around your home.
HOST: Of course, if you heard our first episode about Charleston, you know that the Army Corps has now actually proposed a wall around much of the city’s peninsula. But where that wall ends and which communities it protects — or doesn’t — is controversial. That proposal came after this interview. If you missed that episode, check it out.
MARK: Where we armor against the water, we’re going to have to be really selective where we do that, um, because it’s very costly and it has long term implications when you begin to do that. And then we’ve got to look at the other areas and how do you adapt and can you adapt to living there? And if you can’t, then maybe we have to look for not living there in the future.
HOST: Not living there in the future is an option, but that doesn’t stop the waters from rising. And this plan won’t work for people without the resources or the desire to relocate. So what other options do we have?
AL: What can you give people that have little or limited resources and, and my response is: the best thing you give them is time.
HOST: This is Al George again, who, perhaps not surprisingly, sees a solution not in a wall, but in the wetlands.
AL: Well, the thing I would say that we are blessed with is natural green infrastructure. So salt marshes are known to be natural mitigators of any type of flooding, in addition to being an incredibly important biome, right? One of the most important productive biomes on the planet. But guess what? I hear about people wanting to fill in salt marshes for development. It’s just insane to me. Why would you want to do anything that would sort of impact this most critical um biome, but it’s happening. We need to have a systems-level plan for how we’re going to make sure marshes and green infrastructure is going to be able to be sustainable given these changes. So the first thing: do not buy any marsh front property. You know, I mean, do not —you could buy it but don’t develop it. You know what I’m saying? I mean that’s the first thing. You know, joking, but not joking at the same time. And then the other thing is, is that we’re going to have to really get serious about what we need to do to give nature room to adapt. And to be blunt, we have work to do in that space.
HOST: Sea level rise might not discriminate, but from this country’s history, we see that our mitigation systems do.
ROBERT BULLARD: When we talk about environmental justice and climate justice, we have to understand that those who have contributed least to the problem of environmental pollution and degradation and this whole issue of ecological destruction, will feel the pain first, worst and longest.
HOST: That’s Dr. Robert Bullard. He’s known as the father of environmental justice. He’s also a Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning and Environmental Policy at Texas Southern University.
ROBERT: And the southern United States is the most climate vulnerable region of the United States. As a matter of fact, there have been more billion-dollar severe weather events in the South, than other regions of the country combined by a four-to-one ratio.
HOST: We featured an extended interview with Dr. Bullard in one of our earlier podcast episodes. If you haven’t heard it, it’s worth a listen to learn more about what environmental justice actually looks like.
RICHARD: Look at what happened to us because they built those subdivisions. If you have environmental justice, they would have had to keep all that water, all the traffic and everything in their neighborhood. It wouldn’t be dumped on me. And especially with the highway, with 41. Why should I have to suffer because of that community? They caused the problem. Why should I have to solve their problem?
CLAUDINE: Who do you see as environmental justice applying to?
RICHARD: I think it more applies to wealthy. There’s a double standard there. When they needed that term, it’s a big thing, but when we need it, “Oh you’re just stopping progress.” And that’s the same thing they’re saying about 41. “This is progress.” Progress for who?
HOST: When it comes to Charleston’s future, two things are certain. First, the population is growing and that shows no signs of slowing down. And second, current development practices are continuing to threaten the area’s wetlands, which are crucial for flood control. Though everyone here will eventually feel the impact, it’s clear that in this growing and changing community, sea level rise is not affecting everyone equally. Legal relics like heirs’ property and current factors like gentrifying neighborhoods to the point of flooding show us how the fallout of climate change will result in disproportionate impacts on Black communities. These are the factors we have to consider as we choose solutions to deal with flooding and sea level rise to uphold environmental justice.
HOST: The evening we finalized this episode Charleston County officials held a meeting with Phillips community members to tell them they were ignoring the highway plan that would avoid their community, and rather choosing to widen Highway 41 further into Phillps. The County chose the plan that Phillips community members have been opposing for years, and one that it knew would sit well with the newer, wealthier and whiter neighborhoods.
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HOST: Next time on Broken Ground, we’re back in Norfolk, Virginia where a local wetlands expert tells it like it is.
SKIP STILES: I can’t knock on their front door and go, “Oh my God, you’re gonna die, it’s sea level rise!” So you basically just have to wait for people to come to the conclusion that they need to get out.
CREDITS/PAIGE: Broken Ground is a podcast by the Southern Environmental Law Center. It’s put together by Emily Richardson-Lorente, Paige Polk, Kelley Libby, Jennie Daley, and hosted by Claudine Ebeid McElwain. Our theme music is by Eric Knutson. The archival audio clips you heard in this episode were found from Mount Pleasant Magazine, Fox Business Network, WCBD News 2, and NPR’s All Things Considered. We hope you enjoyed listening, and don’t forget to rate & subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
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