By Jackie Pennoyer
A four-year federal study led by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has brought community leaders and government agencies from coastal communities along America’s southeastern region together to discuss rising seas, a more aggressive storm future, and how best to manage the risk posed to the region’s most vulnerable resources.
Known as the South Atlantic Coastal Study, or SACS, the coastal risk assessment analyzes risks from storms and sea level rise along 65,000 miles of tidally-influenced shorelines in six states, including North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi, and the territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The study has two primary goals: to paint a common operating picture of the region’s coastal storm risk and encourage a coalescing of current, proposed and future protective measures into a cohesive regional strategy that informs decision-makers at all levels.
Unlike several of the Corps’ more localized coastal storm risk management feasibility studies, such as the flood studies in Charleston, Norfolk and the Florida Keys, the SACS will not develop project-specific recommendations for Congressional authorization, said Pam Castens, SACS regional project manager.
“The study will develop a suite of recommendations founded on the concept of shared responsibility for risk reduction,” said Castens. “By working together, those recommendations could assist in expediting an efficient path toward project implementation at all levels of government.”
The draft report — set to release October 2021 — will not include a detailed list of recommended projects for congressional review and federal appropriation, but will highlight high risk areas that are candidates for further consideration and action.
“The point of this study is to understand the bigger picture and integrate all the resources available in a cohesive, strategic way,” said Castens. “This is not just about what the Army Corps can do. It’s about understanding how federal, state, local governments and leaders at all levels can leverage opportunities and work together to make coastal communities safer and more resilient.”
The SACS Project Delivery Team has mounted a complex and enterprising operation, hosting routine webinars, sending monthly newsletters and organizing site-specific workshops with dozens of partnering agencies and community stakeholders. To maximize the availability of information to the public, the team also launched a publically-available geo-portal with modeling overlays on composite risk, population density and other data driving study decisions.
In September 2019, Diane Perkins, SACS project manager overseeing the development of the South Carolina state appendix, held field workshops for the state’s two planning reaches: SC-03, which stretches from the state’s border with North Carolina to the Santee River, and SC-04, the area from the Santee River to the Georgia border. Both events had representation from city, county and state governments; local academic institutions; military branches; federal and state agencies; and local offices of national non-profit organizations.
The study plans to deliver its final products, including state and territory-specific appendices, the final report, and accompanying technical reports, in August 2022.
To learn more about the SACS, visit www.sad.usace.army.mil/SACS.