The City of Aiken and the Hitchcock Woods Foundation today announce an agreement, 20 years in the making, that promises to solve longstanding erosion and pollution issues in the Woods.
A comprehensive management plan has been prepared by the City to updates its stormwater system and prevent continuing erosion and damage in the largest privately-owned and operated urban forest and natural area in the country.
In the past 60 years, as the downtown area has grown and developed, the amount of stormwater draining into the Woods from paved surfaces has increased dramatically, causing significant erosion and accelerating destruction in the Woods, including devastation of sensitive habitat and protected wetlands. The Hitchcock Woods is designated as a South Carolina Heritage Trust property and protected by a conservation easement held by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Stormwater picks up street grime, silt, oil, sand, trash, pollutants and fertilizers, and then flows into the Hitchcock Woods through an antiquated system of underground pipes and open drains.
In early 2016, Mayor Rick Osbon tackled the problem and formed a Stormwater Task Force composed of various stakeholders in the community and representatives of the Hitchcock Woods Foundation. The City then hired McCormick Taylor, an engineering firm based in Columbia with substantial stormwater system expertise, to review and update previous studies prepared by or on behalf of the City and to work with the Task Force to identify and evaluate appropriate actions.
The Stormwater Management Plan – approved unanimously by the Task Force – is comprehensive, involving the installation of traditional and innovative “green” facilities to be located in strategic areas throughout the downtown area and on Hitchcock Woods Foundation property. The Plan will be implemented in phases over a multi-year period and involves the ultimate restoration of the Sand River channel, wetlands, and habitat.
“The City is committed to updating its outdated stormwater system to alleviate flooding on City streets, damage to other critical infrastructure such as roads, sewer, and water pipes, and the preservation of the Hitchcock Woods, which is an integral part of Aiken’s history and unique character,” says Mayor Rick Osbon. “The Woods have always been a haven for school children, educators, archaeologists, hikers, runners, dog walkers, nature lovers, and equestrians.”
“The Hitchcock Woods Foundation is deeply appreciative of the leadership of Mayor Osbon in creating the Task Force and the determined efforts of the City Manager’s Office to develop a solid, achievable plan after 20 years of study,” says Patricia Corey, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Hitchcock Woods Foundation. “We are proud to be a partner in this shared solution and look forward to working closely with the City in the years to come.”
The comprehensive Stormwater Management Plan will be presented to City Council in a public work session on November 13, 2017 and considered by City Council in its regular meeting immediately thereafter. Funding for Phase I of the Plan was approved by County and City voters as part of Capital Projects Sales Tax referenda conducted in 2004 and 2010. “This can has been kicked down the road for six decades and it was past time to find a solution that works,” said Aiken City Manager John Klimm. “Now Mayor Osbon and the Hitchcock Woods Foundation have taken the issue head on and truly worked together to find a solution that’s good for the Woods and good for the people of Aiken.”
Both the City and the Foundation, which is funded solely by private donations, will be actively seeking grants and other financial resources for implementation of future phases of the Plan.