Residents worry Tidelands hospital could worsen flooding

 Residents worry Tidelands hospital could worsen flooding

Whenever it rains, gallons upon gallons of storm water fill up the creeks, ditches and woods near John Lisottl’s home, he said, forcing it to run into a large nearby farm. That land is currently empty, and the storm water has a chance to filter through with minimal damage to the nearby neighborhoods.

But Tidelands Health hopes, by 2024, to operate a new 48-bed hospital on that farm land, conveniently located at the intersection of Highways 31 and 707 in the Socastee community. The hospital would be two stories tall, contain an emergency room and operation rooms, and offer diagnostic imaging and laboratory services. Tidelands would employ about 140 people at the new facility.

Nearby residents, though, worry that developing that farmland — about 84 acres in total — could force the storm water off of the property and into their neighborhoods. Already, some residents said, storm water floods their driveways and backyards — though not their homes — and they fear that new development could push the water inside.

“All that water comes towards us, runs out through our ditches, runs towards the farm and everything,” Lisottl, who lives on Caspian Tern Drive in Socastee, said. “That water, what are they going to do with that water? They have no plan for that water.”

TIdelands Health officials and Horry County storm water managers say that’s not true, that they have a sophisticated plan for ensuring the storm water leaves the site and stays out of the neighborhoods.

Some residents, though, said they don’t trust Tidelands Health and the county managers to keep the water off of their properties. It’s a conflict that’s become common in Horry County as residents and leaders grapple with worsening flooding and an explosion of development, with solutions for how to allow the building but avoid the flooding unclear. What’s left is a situation in which county planners are left to balance those two forces with few tools available for comprehensive solutions.

Though county leaders — and a special commission on flooding — are working to draft and enact new rules for balancing building and flooding, county planners today still approach the issue one parcel at a time, meaning that a solution that works for one property — such as raising up the foundation of a new home or building above flood levels — could push water onto surrounding properties. Residents along the Highway 90 corridor, for example, have said new housing developments near their rural properties have caused flooding in places that hadn’t in the past.

“My backyard floods. It hasn’t gotten into the house but my fear is that if they build this (hospital) at a higher elevation than we sit, that could potentially be a problem,” said Maureen Savello, who, like Lisottl, attended a community meeting at the South Strand Recreation Center on Monday to voice concerns about the project to Tidelands Health and county officials.

In her concerns, Savello also spoke to one of the central conflicts in Horry County that emerges with many new developments, be they in Carolina Forest, Conway, Socastee or elsewhere: Horry County is one of the fastest-growing counties in the United States, and local officials struggle to build infrastructure fast enough to support the influx of people.

“We’ve watched this area grow and even our elected officials, some of them didn’t fight to say that the infrastructure isn’t even here to sustain the flow of traffic,” Savello said.

To manage the storm water, engineers and officials with Tidelands Health said Monday that they plan to install a complex system of storm water retention ponds, drainage ditches and pipes that will capture and hold onto storm water until it can be pumped into Grand Strand Water & Sewers system along Highway 707.

“Through a series of pipes and ditches we will direct the water from the developed area toward Highway 707 and tie in to the existing underground stormwater pipes,” Thomas Bevins, an engineer working on the hospital project, said Monday.

“I can assure you we’re going to do what (Horry County) said we’re supposed to do, which is capture our water and send it to 707,” added Tidelands Health President and CEO Bruce Bailey.

Thom Roth, Horry County’s storm water manager, too, said Monday that he believes that system, as designed, will keep water out of the surrounding neighborhoods.

The planned hospital by Tidelands Health comes as it and other healthcare providers in the area work to expand their footprint. South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control, which regulates and accredits hospitals, said last year that Horry County needs an additional 155 hospital beds to keep up with the growth here. Conway Medical Center is working to build a new hospital along International Drive, and Tidelands Health is pursuing a second project along Carolina Forest Boulevard.

The property in Socastee that Tidelands is looking to develop is currently zoned for a mobile home park. Before Tidelands can build the hospital, both the county Planning & Zoning Commission and the County Council will have to debate and approve the rezoning request, and members of the public will have an opportunity to comment on the project before both bodies.

But at Monday’s meeting, not all residents left convinced that the new hospital would be a net benefit for their area.

“We flood in our neighborhood,” said Sandy Bull, who lives in the Osprey Woods neighborhood. “It’s gotten worse as the years have gone on, so more water that comes into that area is going to exacerbate the flooding that we have now.”

Socastee residents have good reason to worry about flood waters, as theirs is one of the areas of Horry County that tends to fill up with water during bad storms and hurricanes. Socastee’s Rosewood community, for example, along the Intracoastal Waterway, has experienced so much repetitive flooding in recent years that Horry County is currently working to implement a home buyout program to move people out of the area.

According to flood maps produced by the Federal Emergency Management Administration, the land where Tidelands Health wants to build is close to, but not in, any current or proposed flood zones. Still, some residents weren’t put at ease.

“They’re (talking) about what they’re going to do with their water, I get it, but there’s a lot of property around them that’s all wet, sloppy, nasty and that water will have to go somewhere and unfortunately I’m afraid it’s going to come into (our neighborhood),” Lisottl said.

Other residents who live near the proposed hospital said they weren’t worried about flooding, but were instead worried about an increase of noise and traffic. Because the hospital will bring more people and cars into the area, Bailey said Tidelands is working with the state Department of Transportation to install a traffic signal at the intersection of Peat Moss Road and Highway 707. That’s something some residents say is sorely needed in the area, but some on Monday were suspicious that the signal had to come with a new hospital.

Bailey also said Monday that the new Tidelands hospital would accept patients transported via ambulance and helicopter, and residents said they weren’t thrilled about the associated noise.

“I feel a little more comfortable about the flooding but I don’t like the helicopters,” said Kathleen Montalbano, who also lives in the Osprey Woods neighborhood. “I mean it’s in the middle of a residential area, I just don’t see any reason for it.”

Still, others left Monday’s meeting feeling good about Tidelands’ project, and were excited that they’d have easier access to medical care if they needed it.

“The way they planned it I don’t think there’s going to be a problem with any water,” said Elaine Lorence, who lives in the Osprey Cove neighborhood. “We’re pleased with this.”

Louise Garcia, too, said she and her husband would remain optimistic.

“We’re going to stay open minded about this because our property where we live, our backyard will border the hospital, it’s going to be right behind us,” she said. “As long I have some privacy … I have visions of it being beautiful. I’m glad to see that expansion.”

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