October 2017

A Note From Our Mayors

Author: David Bennett & Lisa Sulka | Photographer: Krisztian Lonyai

A Note from David Bennett
Way Too Early, or Perhaps Too Late

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.


A Note from Lisa Sulka
Bluffton Strong

When it comes to the weather, we have had a challenging 11 months! In less than a year, this town has had to handle two hurricanes. In nine years serving as your mayor, hurricane season was a time that we all prepared for, but in the back of our minds, hoped was only a preparation. We have all heard it said: “We sit so close to the Gulf Stream that any hurricane would veer east before it would ever come close to us.” Well, Hurricane Matthew in October of 2017 proved us wrong, and boom! This past week we were in the line of fire for Irma.

Bluffton was prepared and showed it during both storm events. The Bluffton Township Fire District and Bluffton Police Department, along with EMS, town staff and the county were on target, getting the information out in a timely manner and keeping our residents updated as well. Words can’t express the gratitude we have for all of you.

But the response from our residents during both these storm events was even more incredible. It was amazing to see how many people wanted to know how they could help, but really, I expected nothing less. Bluffton is a great town, and in good times and bad, citizens pull together and are such an incredible family.

So, this article today is dedicated to a Blufftononian who gives back to our town as a volunteer. Her name is Jackie Lutz, and she volunteers her time with the American Red Cross. We all know that this role is 365 days a year; not only do Red Cross volunteers help in times like we had this past week, but they also give their time to those in need when faced with tragedy.

Jackie has volunteered three times over the past 11 months with evacuation and emergency housing. Her tour began with Hurricane Matthew, where she volunteered seven days in a shelter in Walterboro S.C. During Hurricane Harvey, off she went to Austin Texas to set up a 900+ facility. She stayed there for 11 days. She flew home, and one day later, stepped up and opened the Bluffton High School shelter for four days, in response to Hurricane Irma. Oh, by the way, did I tell you she just celebrated her seventieth birthday? Jackie, thank you for showing us all that it doesn’t matter what time of life you are in; it is never too late to give back to the town we love so much.

Jackie is just one of the many residents who continue to ask, “How can I help?” So, to the thousands of others, thank you for giving back to this town that we all call home. To the readers who asked me how they can volunteer in times like we just experienced, take a look at the American Red Cross at redcross.org/local/south-carolina/about-us/locations/lowcountry-sc. On this site, you can fill out an application to volunteer, and the next time we have a storm or need volunteers, you will be ready, and your application will be on file.

Thanks to everyone, like Jackie, who either evacuated when asked, volunteered, or took care of your neighbors, family and friends. We are Bluffton Strong!

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