I don’t know about you, but after watching what Hurricane Harvey did to Texas, I have been walking around with a pit in my stomach.
No doubt our recent encounter with Hurricane Matthew made me more aware of what these storms can do, plus my wife’s parents and sister both live in Houston. For the past week she has been beside herself worrying about them, and no matter what words of comfort I tried to give her, she was still on edge.
I will admit that, even though Harvey was far away, I too struggled with anxious thoughts that come with hurricane season. Matthew was a wake up call for me, because I had become somewhat complacent about storms hitting us, since we really hadn’t experienced anything since Hurricane Hugo back in 1989. That storm made Matthew look like a mild afternoon thunderstorm.
The day after Hugo passed, I loaded up a truck with batteries, ice, diapers and such and headed toward Charleston and beyond. The destruction I saw touched me so deeply that I took more than a year off of work and started a program called “A Home for the Holidays.” I was able to raise enough money and labor to build four homes for people that had lost everything, and I mean everything. The first recipient of a new home was a 76-year-old sweetgrass basket weaver named Mary Jane Manigault. When I discovered her, everything she was able to recover from her demolished home fit into an old orange crate. My deal with her was “you weave me a basket, and I’ll build you a home.” That year turned out to be the most rewarding year of my life.
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If you are wondering where I am going with this, Hurricane Harvey and now Hurricane Irma out in the Atlantic have stirred up thoughts and emotions I haven’t felt in years.
In 1989 our area was much different. It wasn’t nearly as crowded, the pace was way slower, and developers, along with our local governments, still tried to hold onto the theory that this area should be developed responsibly. But somewhere along the way, we have definitely lost the vision of building around nature. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t see a once beautiful piece of land covered in asphalt with little forethought given to its impact. Maybe all those early visionaries are dead or gone, because the way building permits are being handed out is absolutely ludicrous.
All I hear when I bring up this subject to folks in government is “development is inevitable here.” I guess because so many of these same folks grew up with roots far away they have not taken the time to look at the history that made this area so popular in the first place. People like Charles Fraser, Fred Hack and others changed the way development was approached, putting nature front and center.
What struck me the most from watching Hurricane Harvey news was the emphasis on how poorly development was handled in and around Houston. Impervious surfaces such as asphalt and concrete made a bad situation not just worse but, quite frankly, devastating. Are we going to take any lessons from this? I wonder, because at the rate I am seeing asphalt and concrete being laid, we are asking for exactly the same fate Houston is now experiencing. There are so many great and attractive alternatives to paving these days, and I am saddened to see that little encouragement is being extended to urge this approach to development.
I remember when it rained 24 inches here in two days back in the early ’80s. If that happened again — and it will happen — the consequences are going to be catastrophic.
Why can’t we be the national example for responsible development like we were initially? The upcoming County Council vote on banning plastic bags here in Beaufort County is a great start, but we need to take things much further. Did you know that Costa Rica is trying to ban ALL plastics by 2021? A second world country is putting us to shame. Most European countries banned plastic bags long ago. My wife and I carry reusable bags — some thermal, some not — every time we shop. It hasn’t proved to be a hardship at all.
And what about plastic water bottles? We pay for clean water, yet those things end up absolutely everywhere. Since I am on the water so much, I can’t think of a single day that I haven’t picked up a half dozen floating around.
These plastics release chemicals into our waters and into our soil. So I guess it all boils down to this: Are we going to be the example for responsible development or the result of bad development? Without urgent public input, my guess is the latter.