Commentary: What comes next as Charleston storm surge study nears completion

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Charleston Distirct
Published March 15, 2022
Updated: March 13, 2022
Man smiling in suit with flags behind him

Lt. Col. Andrew Johannes

As the Army Corps of Engineers’ Charleston District wraps up the feasibility study on reducing the risk from coastal storm surge to the Charleston peninsula, I not only applaud the study team and the city of Charleston for confronting a coastal challenge as formidable — and indeed inevitable — as storm surge inundation, but I also thank members of the greater Charleston public for their input and involvement as resolute stewards of this beautiful community.

The net result of this combined effort is a feasible, effective plan to substantially reduce the risk posed by coastal storm surge to the economic vitality, resources and safety of the Charleston peninsula. The city’s willingness to support the overall plan is an important part of the process that will allow the chief of engineers to make a final decision on approval.

Over the next few months, our regional office in Atlanta and our headquarters in Washington will review the final report on behalf of our agency’s top engineer. If endorsed by the chief of engineers, the study will then go to Congress for potential authorization of the recommended plan. The next phase — preconstruction, engineering and design — may only be initiated once PED funds have been appropriated by Congress and a design agreement has been executed by the city and the Corps.

At this point, the Corps has completed the analysis necessary to understand the benefits and costs, as well as the environmental impact, to allow the team to identify the plan with the greatest return for federal investment. The benefit-cost ratio will be taken into account to determine if there is a federal interest in investing in a plan to reduce storm surge risk to the peninsula. Detailed engineering, technical studies and design work (including mitigation designs) will be completed in the PED phase. The images and design descriptions that have circulated and been produced by others are neither official nor accurate representations of the plan the study recommends. This awaits detailed design.

We know how anxious the Charleston community is to see the design of the plan’s features. We are equally eager to tackle these important design questions, and to lead more detailed engineering analysis and design with the city, its stakeholders and the public for a plan that remains resilient yet is integrated with the city’s historical charm.

If the study moves into the next phase, the city and the community will continue to be vital partners as we work together to develop a detailed design. In the past four years, our team has endeavored to involve the public often, presenting at almost 100 meetings with leaders, working groups and citizens.

Coastal storm surge inundation is a real, looming threat. The study’s recommended plan addresses the impacts of storm surge and is expected to be integrated with local efforts to address other flood risks. Storm surge barriers are a proven and fundamental part of a comprehensive resiliency plan, most recently preventing Category 4 Hurricane Ida’s storm surge from causing catastrophic loss of life and destruction last year in New Orleans. Without similar measures in place, coastal communities may be left with no choice but to flee, leaving our homes and history behind us.

I want to emphasize that the Corps of Engineers is a dedicated but impartial party. We are committed to sharing the facts, involving the public and serving as an engaged, collaborative partner to the city and its stakeholders. I’m proud of my team, and we are ready — however great or complex the challenge — to serve this community and our nation.

Lt. Col. Andrew Johannes is commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Charleston District.

Release no. 22-003