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Way Too Early, or Perhaps Too Late

October 2017Mayor David Bennett as seen in Celebrate Hilton Head Magazine

Did you know that MSNBC’s Morning Joe does a show before morning actually arrives? Well it does - and Hilton Head Island was represented for a few short minutes recently. Even though Irma’s storm surge had receded as quickly as it had arrived, I accepted their invitation to appear, wanting to be certain to tell those listening at 5:30 a.m. that Hilton Head Island was alive and well on the day after Irma swept through and tossed the tide into our homes and businesses, sweeping away parts of the shoreline and our hopes that lightning wouldn’t strike twice.

My wife woke me before dawn - way too early - to communicate that we had a plan, a well - rehearsed one, that prevailed when Matthew struck last year. Everyone should understand that, years ago, following Hurricane Katrina, Hilton Head Island committed to protect itself from future natural disasters. Those citizens who perceived the island’s incredible value worked to design and deliver a plan for beach renourishment, emergency operations management, and disaster recovery. Of course, since Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, other storms have just passed us by, to the east or west, sparing our island home. Our beach remained pristine for residents and visitors alike. Were the preparations too much? Were they too early? The simple answer is no.

During my “morning joe,” I paused to listen as other leaders from our region spoke of the devastation to their areas. While pictures of damage were displayed by the news anchors, the representative from a neighboring island to our south told a tale of lament. This concerned leader unfolded a story of working diligently for years upon years to gain public support and funding for preserving their beach, their primary asset, and the community beyond. Over and over, the topic of beach renourishment emerged, only to submerge again, deemed too costly or otherwise caught up in drawn-out political processes. Perhaps, that island and other coastal communities like it will succeed in their future efforts to firmly establish an ongoing plan and funding similar to what we have in place on our island. Recovery, even with a plan, can be long, expensive and arduous. But with a plan, citizens and leaders alike can sleep more easily, and simply be an audience in the wee hours before their morning joe.

So yes, the efforts of your town over many decades to prepare and preserve its vital assets deserve our gratitude. But the same type of planning and preparation should not end there. Analogous to disaster preparedness is cultural and environmental preservation. Unlike a major storm, we see micro-devastation to our island with the diminishing of the Gullah culture, the distortion of our distinct brand, the development techniques which are not in the style of Hilton Head Island, and the struggles of our arts and entertainment organizations. While we have strong community organizations, incredible assets, people with unique strengths, talents and resources to bring to bear a fabulous future, it must be orchestrated. Only chaos happens otherwise. Organization is work, but we must plan. It’s never too late. And I prefer that it be now.

And before it’s too late, I would like to extend my most sincere thanks to all of our fine emergency responders who worked diligently and remained alert to every threat before, during and after Tropical Storm Irma. Congratulations on a job very well done.