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Beaufort eyes multimillion-dollar plan to fight flooding. But will it work?

Irma floods downtown Beaufort

Firefighters with the Beaufort-Port Royal Fire Department take a drive Monday afternoon through downtown Beaufort to survey Tropical Storm Irma flooding.
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Firefighters with the Beaufort-Port Royal Fire Department take a drive Monday afternoon through downtown Beaufort to survey Tropical Storm Irma flooding.

Jo Anne Hardyman steered her white SUV until the wheels were just over the sidewalk, then parked, snapping photos of a nearby ditch overflowing with water that had pushed into nearby backyards.

She already had emailed all of the city officials she could think of Thursday morning as a storm quickly dumped more than 3 inches of rain on Beaufort. Her home is one that backs up to the flooded ditch.

In 27 years, her house on Center Drive has flooded four times — three in the past four years.

“It makes me a nervous wreck when it rains like that,” Hardyman said.

As the city works toward a multimillion-dollar plan to solve flooding issues in the Mossy Oaks neighborhood and certain areas of downtown, residents in the most vulnerable spots sweat each heavy rain.

The water fell fast Thursday — 3.6 inches in the morning, with 2.9 inches in one hour, the city said. A low tide kept floods from rising higher.

Rain is expected for at least the next 10 days.

Beaufort resident Mike Sutton went paddling down King Street in Beaufort during Tropical Storm Irma's arrival at high tide. This video displays side-by-side video before and after to illustrate how storm surge inundated The Point.

What can be done?

A photo taken by city fire officials show people standing on a front porch looking out at a flooded Hamar Street near the intersection of Greene Street.

A police officer was directing traffic on North Street when water rose around the patrol car Thursday morning. The car was towed away as a precaution, police spokeswoman Stephanie Karafa said.

Numerous cars had to be towed from floodwaters downtown.

After consecutive years of heavy rain and flooding from Hurricane Matthew and Tropical Storm Irma, the city is moving forward with plans to alleviate some of the problem. There is no guarantee the fixes will turn back the worst of the weather, however.

A recent engineering report identified up to $15 million in projects throughout the city. More than $6 million is anticipated in the Mossy Oaks neighborhoods, a city priority. The city was recently awarded $1 million in grant money for part of the work.

Among the proposed solutions as of now are a new 4-acre pond in the area of Southside Park and improving the drain pipes at First Boulevard and Battery Creek Road and at the Spanish Moss Trail leading into Battery Creek.

Dredging a pond near the intersection, which was among the suggestions during early discussions, shouldn’t be necessary, city public projects and facilities director Neal Pugliese told City Council earlier this month. The engineering report showed issues in the area can be solved by adjusting the elevation of the pipes draining into Battery Creek, which would naturally empty the pond, he said.

Council members asked Pugliese what assurance there might be that spending millions on improvements will prevent flooded homes during the event of an abnormally high tide and heavy rain. He said the work would handle about 75 percent of weather but that it would be dishonest to say flooding would be avoided during the worst storms.

“If we have the massive amount of issues that we had last year — ‘x’ amount of inches in 45 minutes — we’re going to have a problem,” Pugliese told council members.

Mayor Billy Keyserling asked whether rising sea levels would be included in the scope of the project and if the proposals would only compound issues of water rising and entering the city from surrounding waterways.

“We’ve already seen it where we have a system that is in trouble in Mossy Oaks, where we’re getting salt water a quarter mile up into the neighborhood,” he said during Pugliese’s presentation.

Major flooding occurred in Beaufort's historic 'The Point' neighborhood and Henry C. Chambers waterfront park when Tropical Storm Irma came through on Monday. Mike Sutton took out his jon boat to navigate the flood waters and survey the damage. He

‘It may be too late for some of us’

Hardyman wonders whether more regular maintenance would have avoided some of the problems.

Water converges on her home from the front and the back during a heavy rain.

Hardyman’s home still hasn’t recovered from Hurricane Matthew in 2016, when 5 inches of water climbed her walls throughout the house. More than half of the insurance money went to the company that performed the work just to rid the house of water, ripping up old carpet, drying out the floors and keeping mold from spreading.

To help pay for continued repairs, Hardyman has had to continue working part-time at the library, though she is years past retirement age.

She said she received a long email response from Keyserling about the flooding Thursday. The mayor told her he also had heard from residents in other parts of the city there is light at the end of the tunnel, she said.

“I emailed him back and said ‘that may well be, but it may be too late for some of us,’” Hardyman said.