This home on Hilton Head Island sustained flooding and tree damage from Hurricane Matthew in October 2016. Four large pine trees fell on the roof, one of which came through the ceiling.

Once again South Carolina’s Lowcountry dodged a bullet. 

Hurricane Ian devastated South Florida, bypassed us, and headed up to Georgetown and the Myrtle Beach area. 

Ironically, my wife and I retired to the Lowcountry in 2009 in part because this part of the Lowcountry had not had a significant hurricane in more than 100 years until Matthew in 2016. 

We had a fairly strong hit from Hurricane Matthew and have experienced several close calls since then. The question then becomes not if, but when, a hurricane will come at us head-on. 

Few of us like to think about it. However, homeowners’ insurance companies and the National Flood Insurance Agency (NFIA) are thinking about it.  

A number of homeowners have experienced their insurance company walking away and forcing us to look for an alternative, at higher premiums. We can expect these insurance issues to continue this practice going forward.  

This means that homeowners, towns and communities have similar serious, difficult decisions to make, and these decisions will have consequences. 

Many homeowners who had their homes totally destroyed by Hurricane Matthew have rebuilt. However, even if they had the resources, and their insurance company and NFIA reimbursed them at replacement cost, will the destruction repeat itself? 

Historically, we have a near-reflexive inclination to rebuild after national disasters. The efforts needed in New Orleans and Charleston after a hurricane or tropical storm are just two of the more recent examples. This, is despite the fact that New Orleans is mostly under sea level, and Charleston is highly susceptible to flooding.

Beaufort County is better situated than that, but not by all that much. The average height above sea level of Hilton Head Island is 10 feet. Bluffton is higher on average, but still has large areas that can be impacted by storm surges. Nevertheless, the desire to rebuild is understandable. 

But, what about new development? 

Many of us see a pristine shoreline as the wonder of nature that it is. There are others who see waterfront property as an excellent opportunity to build something on it. However, is it wise to build multi-million-dollar structures in areas that are highly susceptible to ever more frequent and more devastating storms?

There is more to a hurricane than storm surges. There is excessive wind. Even if you are a fair distance from the water’s edge, hurricane-force winds can do substantial damage to private and public structures. 

The destruction of marshland is also a cause for concern and a topic for a future article.

Communities – whether county, municipal or homeowner’s associations – might want to think very carefully about approving more waterfront construction. 

John Riolo lives in Moss Creek and is past president of the Nature Club of Moss Creek.