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A relatively benign reminder of what we face in a major storm blew in Sunday and Monday.'
The front that moved through the area brought sustained winds between 25 and 35 mph, and gusts up to 50 mph.'
It brought the Verizon Heritage golf tournament to a halt, downed power lines, toppled trees, dropped branches on top of people and cars, fanned brush fires and generally made us miserable.'
All that and we barely reached the lower end of tropical storm status (34 to 73 mph), let alone hurricane-level winds. And we escaped heavy rains, a factor that could have sent a lot more trees and branches crashing to the ground.'
"It does not take a major storm to do a lot of damage in Beaufort County," said William Winn, Beaufort County director of emergency management. "When we ask people to evacuate for a Category 1 (hurricane), people need to take it seriously. Stop and look at what 40 mph winds did this weekend."'
The amount of wind-blown debris left to pick up reminds us that Hilton Head Island officials were smart to develop and adopt a debris-removal plan.'
The policy allows the town to centralize cleanup instead of splitting the responsibility among county, state and local governments. It will also put the town in charge of clearing debris from private roads instead of relying on land owners and private communities.'
This is no small matter. With Hilton Head's heavy tree cover, debris could block access to many areas of the island even after a minor storm. A Category 1 storm, for instance, would create about 84,000 cubic yards of debris, according to town data. A Category 5 would create 6.7 million cubic yards of debris.'
The policy is designed to help the tourism-based island bounce back as quickly as possible after a hurricane. But it comes at a cost to taxpayers.'
The town began setting up a reserve fund during its budget discussions last year for storm cleanup and other expenses. The estimated cost of removing the debris ranges from $430,000 for a Category 1 storm to as much as $63 million for a Category 5.'
This week's storms demonstrated in a small way why this level of planning, both logistically and financially, is important.'
Other municipalities in the Lowcountry should follow Hilton Head's example.