At least four plantations asked Hilton Head Island staff and the mayor to delay Tuesday’s re-entry to the island, many citing safety as the biggest concern.
And Broad Creek Public Service District officials say no town officials consulted them prior to the re-entry decision — a decision they disagreed with as well.
Ongoing sewer problems including overflows, lack of power, and water-filled and debris-strewn roads were some of the safety concerns expressed by the plantations.
“I was totally against letting the island open as early as it was,” Chip Munday, Indigo Run manager said. “I spoke with the town manager and mayor on a number of occasions and urged them to not open.”
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Lindsay Finger, Long Cove director of marketing and communications, also said staff contacted town officials.
“Our number one concern was the safety of our residents,” Finger said. “Our security gate wasn’t even accessible until the day before people returned because of a power line down.”
Mayor David Bennett said he personally spoke with Hilton Head Plantation, Sea Pines and Indigo Run leaders, who all expressed concerns about the re-entry. Each were told they had the ability to restrict access at their own gates, Bennett said.
Sea Pines restricted access Tuesday, the day the rest of the island was allowed to return.
“There is no hard and fast point that is readily identifiable to let people back home or don’t let people back home,” Bennett said. “On the flip side, we had some people who had been out of their homes for a week. That is a real hardship.”
Steve Riley, town manager, said he spoke with every plantation prior to the town’s decision to let people return.
“I can’t remember anyone who was excited about having them reopen,” Riley said. “The reality was that holding off until everything was perfect just wasn’t going to happen. We needed businesses back up and operational. People were going to run out of money. There are people who were exceedingly draining their resources, and they couldn’t hold out much longer.”
Munday said some people were unable to return to their homes once on the island anyway.
“I understand the pressure that was put on the town ... but people couldn’t even get to their homes without us having to scramble,” Munday said.
Hurrying to clear roads has caused more damage on the island, Munday said.
“A lot of damage was done that didn’t need to be done because of the speed at which we had to work,” Munday said. “There were a lot of problems caused by having to quickly remove debris.”
This includes damage to water and sewer infrastructure, Munday said.
Pete Nardi, Hilton Head Public Service District general manager, said water and sewer infrastructure often is damaged during the cleanup process after natural disasters.
Pump stations and water meters can be damaged as debris is cleared, moved to the side of a road and later removed. This can lead to water being turned off or sewer overflows throughout the clean-up process, Nardi said.
Sewer overflows were happening as late was Wednesday. As of Thursday, all of the island’s public sewer districts said they had no active sewer overflows that they knew about. Yet, everyone was still being asked to restrict usage to help reduce the chance of more leaks.
Bennett said he and town staff were aware of the leaks when they decided to allow residents back on the island.
“Nothing that has happened to date is surprising,” Bennett said “There are going to be problems that we are going to need to deal with.”
The smell of sewage wafted through the air Thursday, but many Hilton Head Plantation residents said overflowing sewers and restrictions on water use weren’t particularly high on their list of concerns.
“I can deal with the water being out – I’ve camped before, so I’m not really worried about that,” Chris Hardt said. “But if you have tree fall on your house or other structural damage, that’s a much bigger deal.”
“No matter what, I think everyone with a house still standing is breathing a sigh of relief,” he said, even if that breath of air comes with a hint of sewage stench. “I’m happy the house is still here and happy the island is still here.”
Dan Harrington agreed, saying he felt “a sense of relief that no trees had fallen through our house,” even if his yard “looks like an atomic bomb went off.”
A messy yard and water restrictions are “a small price to pay compared to what other people have going on,” he said.
Residents of nearby Palmetto Hall Plantation echoed the sentiments of their neighbors in Hilton Head Plantation.
Barbara Keaveny said Thursday that she hadn’t seen any sewage overflows in her neighborhood.
“We were told not to flush toilets, take showers or run the dishwasher, so that’s what we did,” she said. “You do what you have to do.”
While water use restrictions are bit of a hassle, Keaveny said she felt “blessed” that her home was not damaged in the storm.