A historically Black community with Gullah Geechee heritage, Bucksport has a deep cultural history and ecological value that has often been overlooked.
Sitting on the border of the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge, the problems facing Bucksport are also affecting critical habitats for marsh birds and other wildlife.
Over the last half decade, Bucksport residents — not to mention the town itself — have been devastated by flooding. Facing ever increasing flood events while paying skyrocketing insurance premiums, our residents want and deserve relief.
To put it simply, as Bucksport resident Hazel Bellamy told a local television station in February, “We need some help.”
Bucksport is not alone in South Carolina, nor is it an anomaly around the country, as a community that is experiencing the impacts of flooding due to climate change. The question is how the impact on Bucksport — and the people of our town — can be addressed.
Flooding in Bucksport has displaced residents, destroyed homes, and financially crippled an already strained town. Until a recent change with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, many properties were ineligible for relief due to their status as heirs’ property — a status that creates difficulties for families who are required to prove legal ownership of property to receive relief funding.
Heirs’ property refers to property passed to family members without a legal will, and many heirs’ property owners here in Bucksport can trace their land as far back as the Reconstruction Era.
Heirs’ property exists for many reasons including discrimination, income disparities, and distrust in legal systems. While FEMA has made a change to make it easier for heirs’ property owners to access assistance, other federal agencies have not made this change and low property values in Bucksport still result in ineligibility. Homes that would have been repaired or replaced are now left to languish in the community creating blight and crime.
We cannot help but feel frustrated when we see projects and funding all around Bucksport but our community in need is unable to access them or benefit.
The S.C. Office of Resilience (SCOR) has an opportunity to change this as Bucksport and other communities face the effects of our changing climate.
SCOR is a newly created agency that will oversee grant programs that focus on rebuilding or repairing homes damaged by severe weather events. Additionally, SCOR manages federal funds available to assist in disaster recovery and the comprehensive plan will help direct where these and other state resilience funds are spent.
We at Audubon South Carolina are part of an ongoing stakeholder process to ensure the funds available for resilience and flood mitigation go where they are needed most.
The restoration of and protection of natural and community infrastructure will help birds and people become more resilient, improve quality of life and be better prepared for future flood events.
We hope that as development gets underway for the Comprehensive Resilience Plan, the people of South Carolina will offer input about their experiences with flooding. This input will assist stakeholders like Audubon and agencies like SCOR with gathering invaluable data about how, when, and where South Carolinians experience flooding.
We need your help providing critical feedback to state government resilience planners about flooding impacts to your community to ensure we are using the best data possible.
To make your voice heard, please join community leaders in Bucksport and other stakeholders in completing the SCOR flood survey found at scor.sc.gov.
Kevin Mishoe works with the Association for the Betterment of Bucksport and Julia Dietz is the policy director for Audubon South Carolina.