Gadsden Creek is in danger. The developers of the Horizon Project have filed for a permit to fill and pipe the creek and marsh system under the premise that it is only a "drainage ditch". A visit to the creek reveals that it is so much more. As one of the last remaining tidal creeks on the Charleston Peninsula, Gadsden Creek offers critical environmental benefits, as well as economic and cultural opportunities.
Gadsden Creek is the last vestige of the once thriving natural habitat of the western peninsula. The complexity of the creek system supports a wide variety of wildlife and birds. While the creek is not in it's original form, it is still a critical link in allowing us to restore ecological balance in urbanized Charleston.
After it rains, stormwater runoff carries pollutants including hydrocarbons, heavy metals, and pet waste from streets, parking lots, roofs, and lawns into the creek system. The marshes and mudflats act as filters and sponges, absorbing and reducing the pollutant load carried to the Ashley River. If the creek is piped, this filter system will be destroyed and these pollutants would be discharged directly into the already impaired Ashley River.
We need to look and learn from past events, including Hurricanes Hugo, Katrina, and Sandy, to make smarter decisions about the way we utilize land and resources. During events like these, areas that were originally low receive the bulk damage from floods. Environmental Biologist Alberto Tacón has said, "restoring urban wetlands is a sign of maturity in the planning of cities, which recognizes their natural conditions and reconciles development with cities' true identities." Containing Gadsden Creek in an enclosed pipe system can give us a false sense of security that the forces of nature can be easily controlled. As a hydrology professor of mine said during Hurricane Katrina, "mother nature always holds the trump card." Gadsden Creek acts as a relief valve during heavy rains, preventing more severe flooding of the western peninsula. A pipe system can never provide this relief.
Incorporating Gadsden Creek into the development plan for the area will provide many economic and cultural benefits. The water and green space can help reduce the urban heat island effect, providing relief from the hot and humid Charleston summers. Access to stream systems like Gadsden Creek provide opportunities for passive and active recreation, and they have been shown to improve the health and well-being of urban residence. Studies have also linked urban waterways to increased property values.
Gadsden Creek is an important historical, environmental, and cultural feature of the Charleston Peninsula. It offers unique educational opportunities for looking into Charleston's past and projecting into its future. Gadsden Creek, if saved and incorporated into the development plan, will make Horizon uniquely Charleston instead of resembling any other urban development throughout the county. Gadsden Creek will prove to be an asset not only to the Horizion Development, but to the greater Charleston community.