BRACK: USA needs permanent way out of funding natural disasters

Waves from the Ashley River crash onto the porch of this Murray Boulevard porch in Charleston during Hurricane Irma’s storm surge. (Photo via


By Elliott Brack, editor and publisher

CHARLESTON, S.C.  |  People from all over the country, and internationally, love to come to Charleston, as we did last week. They come for the charm, the history, the rainbow houses, the carriage rides, the food…and the politeness. Among the tourists last week were 3,000 tourists poking around the downtown area from an enormous German ship.

But Charleston has a problem, as evidenced last week: the sea. Combining Hurricane Irma, rising tides, being in the Lowcountry, and years of delay of no protective improvements…..flooding came.  The Lower Battery had water crashing over the seawall. The areas from the Battery to Lockwood Avenue, the lowest in the city, were underwater. The sprawling hospital complex off Calhoun and Lockwood was impossible to reach, with vast flooding.

In recent years, since Hurricane Hugo crushed the city in 1989 (on September 22), the city should have moved to confront the problems that flooding causes. But slow-go Charleston has almost resisted taking steps to abate these problem. Estimates now are that it will cost Charleston $2 billion to build a flood relief system.

Charleston, of course, is not alone in having problems (that many attribute to climate change.) We’ve seen the problems from Hurricane Harvey in Texas. Floridians were hit hard by Hurricane Irma, and the damage is heavy. The low-lying areas of Miami, et. al., at least missed the hardest impact. And now Puerto Rico has been tremendously devastated by the hurricane this week.

We all know that major devastation will occur again, whether it is forest fires in the West; flooding in mid America from melting snows; tornados or even earthquakes.  Why is it that these United States don’t have a thought-out plan to deal with these events? Why does it always seem a surprise?

A car buried in sand washed onto a street on Edisto Island during Hurricane Irma. (SCDOT photo.)

What it takes in the aftermath of flooding, hurricanes, and other extreme weather conditions is federal funds.  Yet it takes an action by the Congress to appropriate money for such catastrophes.

We think back to the days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. His Administration saw opportunity in other forms….rural areas needing electricity. In FDR’s years came the Rural Electrification Act of 1936, (REA) enacted on May 20, 1936, to provide federal loans for electrical distribution systems to serve isolated rural areas of the United States. Thus we got the modern Jackson and Walton EMCs, and others, and the hinterlands had the powerful power of electricity.

It was foresight that paved the way for the REA.

Yet the USA seems to lack foresight in making sure there are immediate dollars for attacking natural disasters that continue to occur.

How about a plan for rebuilding of our infrastructure when disasters strike? How about an Infrastructure Relief Administration (IRA), where cities, counties, states could seek federal funds automatically when major catastrophes happen, without the need for immediate Congressional action. (No, on second thought, “IRA” is already in use. Better make it “IRB,” the Infrastructure Relief Bureau.)  Simply have in place the structure that local areas could borrow from an IRA fund (which would seek bonds from private investors, guaranteed by the government) for financing the re-building of major projects from these natural catastrophes.

Then perhaps major cities, like Charleston, would not dawdle like it has in the 25 years since Hugo. They could have taken advantage of a well thought-out and in-place governmental agency to have funded these super projects to protect its people.

Puerto Rico, Houston and other areas hammered by these disasters, would then at least have a financial route out of the disaster. And places like Charleston would continue to tout its charm, history and politeness.