COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Almost four years ago, the Midlands experienced record levels of rain and flooding, which caused dams to break and roads to close all over the midlands.
Four years later, Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said the city is still struggling to finish repairing all of the dams — particularly the Columbia Canal.
He said the canal still needs millions of dollars in repairs from the damage caused by the 2015 floods. Mayor Benjamin said the city has requested $169 million to finish repairs to the Columbia Canal.
“FEMA experts have determined that not only to rebuild the canal but also to build a resilient canal to ensure that this crucial part of our infrastructure that provides water to the entire part of this region would be upwards of 150 million dollars.” Mayor Benjamin said. “We need FEMA to recognize the long-held responsibility that it has to people of the midlands.”
Mayor Benjamin spoke out yesterday on Twitter, saying that he feels the federal government shouldn’t divert $155 million in funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also known as ICE.
The tweet said, “to all who are perplexed as to why the Columbia canal has not yet been repaired since the 2015 storms the Trump administration is taking millions from FEMA to fund immigration courts and ICE jails."
He said it’s frustrating to see funds diverted when the Midlands are still in need of emergency repair funds, nearly four years after the floods. He said the Midlands received $60 million in emergency funds from the Community Development Block Grant in 2015. A third of that went to Columbia, which Mayor Benjamin said was used to help homeowners.
He said that the city has requested 169 million dollars for the last few years for the Columbia canal repairs, which has been denied every year. Benjamin added that last year the federal government offered 10 million dollars, which the city turned down because it was insufficient to make the repairs.
“The Columbia Canal, this canal, damaged by the 1000 year flood of 2015 is something that is a perfect example of why we have FEMA,” Mayor Benjamin said.
Mayor Benjamin said that the city has not heard back regarding the 169 million dollar funding request for this year. However, a FEMA spokesman said in a statement to NPR that the account used for ongoing recovery efforts — which now totals $27 billion —won’t be impacted by the plans to divert money.
Mayor Benjamin said the city is currently investing half a billion dollars in water and sewer infrastructure around the city. He added that the Columbia Canal funds would go to rebuilding the levy wall and making sure the canal structure is strong to prevent damage from occurring during potential future natural disasters.
“FEMA was established so that in those rare situations when natural disasters occur, it’s a time for the federal government to step in and bring our tax dollars back home,” Mayor Benjamin said.
The South Carolina DOT did not respond to our request for the number of on-going projects from the 2015 floods today. However, as of October of 2018 there were 12 roads still closed with private dams.