Alexandra Olgin

Reporter

Alexandra Olgin covers flood recovery and other news in South Carolina's Lowcountry.

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A row of recovered cannonballs in the Charleston Museum
Alexandra Olgin/SC Public Radio

Live cannonballs from more than 200 years ago continue to be found in Charleston. The relics from the Revolutionary and Civil Wars occasionally wash up on beaches or are found underground. While some are inactive hunks of metal, others could still explode.

In an empty field near Charleston, military bomb experts are getting ready to detonate a rusted cannonball from the 1800's. The ordinance is buried underground and wrapped in C-4. An expert yells, "Fire in the hole!" as an explosion rips through the air.

OCEARCH researcher tagging the male white shark Hilton
Provided by OCEARCH

Off the coast of Hilton Head Island, the M/V OCEARCH sits stationary ready to catch sharks from twelve inches to twelve feet. The vessel is a temporary laboratory for scientists conducting research on the fish, from the way they see color to their mating habits. OCEARCH has done expeditions around the world, though this is the first time the organization has worked off the South Carolina or Georgia coast. They were pulled here by shark activity.

Photo courtesy of Grace Beam/Post and Courier via Pool

The five-week trial of a former North Charleston police officer ended in a mistrial after the jury deadlocked.  This comes after four days and twenty-two hours of deliberation.  

35-year old Michael Slager was charged with murder after he fired eight shots at 50-year-old Walter Scott as he ran in. Slager had pulled Scott over for a broken brake light in April 2015. The incident was captured on cell phone video that shocked the nation. 

Grace Beahm/Post and Courier via Pool

Jurors in Charleston, South Carolina will continue deliberating Wednesday morning in the trial of former police officer Michael Slager. He is charged with murder for shooting Walter Scott last year. Bystander cell-phone video of the officer repeatedly shooting him in the back as he ran away shocked a country still trying to come to terms with other instances of police using deadly force against black men. This tape was a key piece of evidence used by both the prosecution and defense.  

Alexandra Olgin / South Carolina Public Radio

 

The bystander who filmed the cell phone video of a North Charleston police officer shooting a fleeing motorist testified in court Friday, November 4, 2016. Michael Slager was fired shortly after the April 2015 shooting and is now on trial for murder.   

 

Alexandra Olgin
Cathy Bradberry

Officials say now is your last chance to evacuate. Once the rain and wind gets bad they warn it won’t be safe to drive. North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey says authorities went to low lying areas that are prone to flooding and knocked on doors to encourage people to leave.

“We are going back today to again. We will have our city buses there to transport if they need it. You flood under a major rain we don’t know exactly how high your waters are going to get. But you need to be safe. We will get you back to your homes as quickly as possible.”

Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard/Credit Petty Officer 1st Class Stephen Lehmann

The National Flood Insurance Program has a problem.

More than 5 million people, mainly in coastal states, have policies through it, but the federal program is in more than $23 billion in debt. Experts feel reforms are needed as the 2017 renewal approaches. One of those people is Howard Kunreuther, co-director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Risk Management and Decision Process Center. He was part of a study last year focused on Charleston, South Carolina.

Mercedes-Benz is expanding its North Charleston facility to produce vans. It is expected to be an additional 1 million square feet.
Alexandra Olgin/SC Public Radio

    On a clear sunny day executives and government officials in black hard hats push metal shovels into loose dirt. This ceremonial groundbreaking in front of a leveled plot with construction equipment is the start of Mercedes-Benz Vans expansion in North Charleston.   

The new $500 million assembly plant will be more than double the size of the current facility and eventually employ 1,300 more people.

 

Head of Mercedes-Benz Vans Volker Mornhinweg said North Charleston was a convenient place to expand.

 

Alexandra Olgin

Beaten Path Lane looks like a typical suburban neighborhood street. Houses with square green lawns and large oak trees line the street. But upon closer inspection one realizes the James Island development is missing curbs, sidewalks and gutters. Instead civil engineer Joshua Robinson says there are native juncus grass, cypress trees, beautyberry plants, frogs and dragonflies – all things you would find in a marsh.

Robinson designed this neighborhood a few years ago.

Alexandra Olgin

    

  At a small Baptist congregation a half hour north of Charleston, Melvin Graham Jr. is praying.

A laminated bookmark with a picture of his sister Cynthia Graham Hurd marks his bible. She was murdered on June 17, 2015 in the basement of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church along with eight others. Graham said he and his siblings plan to remember their sister through her passion.

“We came up with the idea of giving away books in June, in honor of her, because June is her birthday,” said Graham. 

SC Dept. of Natural Resources teams are surveying fish populations in estuaries.
Alexander Olgin/SC Public Radio

Parts of South Carolina got more than 20 inches of rain the first week of October 2015. That influx of freshwater in the rivers and marshes lowered salt levels and flushed fish downstream. Scientists at the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources are studying marine life and plants to see what temporary or permanent impacts the floods had on waterways around the state. 

During the opening ceremony for Spoleto Festival USA, Charleston, SC,  the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company perform an excerpt from “D-Man in the Water.”
Alexander Olgin/SC Public Radio

The 40th Spoleto Festival U.S.A. is in full swing. The music and arts festival opened Friday and runs through the middle of June. In his speech opening the event, Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg says Spoleto holds a special place for him because he grew up going.

“I was like a little kid in a candy store. I was a chemistry major, but I loved music and played the piano. Every day deciding what event we were going to go to. It was just terrific.”

A white former North Charleston police officer has been charged with federal civil rights violations for shooting and killing an unarmed black man last year. 

Michael Slager has been indicted with violating Walter Scott’s civil rights. He’s also charged with obstruction of justice for knowingly misleading authorities investigating the incident.

Slager was charged with unlawful use of weapon during the commission of a crime. He also faces a state murder trial scheduled for October. Last fall, North Charleston approved a $6.5 million civil settlement with Scott's family.

The study of the persistent low salinity levels in the North Inlet Estuary is part of a series of research the University of South Carolina has funded to examine how nature and human communities were impacted by the October 2015 flood.
Alexandra Olgin/SC Public Radio

  Marshes along the South Carolina coast have been less salty following an influx of rain water late last year. Low levels of salinity for a sustained period of time can change the homes and breeding grounds for fish and other animals. 

Scientists at the University of South Carolina are studying how this temporary environmental change may affect the ecology of the marsh. Research Specialist Paul Kenny slips a small metal measuring device into the water.

Circuit Judge J.C. Nicholson questions attorneys Wednesday at the Charleston County courthouse before he approved a delay in Dylann Roof’s murder trial.
Brad Nettles/Post & Courier / Courtesy of the Post & Courier, Charleston, SC

    A South Carolina judge has delayed the state death-penalty trial of a man accused of killed nine black parishioners at the Charleston Emanuel AME church last June.

The murder trial of Dylann Roof originally scheduled for July, is now slated to start January 17th. Circuit Judge J.C. Nicholson granted the defense six more months to complete a psychiatric evaluation of the defendant, but ordered a monthly report on its progress

Attorney for several of the victims’ families, Andy Savage said most understand the reason for the delay.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife employees Jason Ayers and Roman Crumpton place two layers of bagged oyster shells on wooden pallets to create new reefs.
Alexandra Olgin/SC Public Radio

  A chain of volunteers is passing 15 pound mesh bags of recycled oyster shells down to the edge of Abbapoola creek, where they are stacked on wooden pallets adjacent to healthy living oyster reefs behind Aileen Walpole’s house.

“I think it is a lot nicer to have something that is natural creating the barrier rather than putting rip rap down,” she said.

The oyster reef barrier Walpole is referring to has helped slow the erosion of the pluff mud banks behind her house on John’s Island.

Ashby and Urbie West, father and son, have been farming together for seven years.
Alexandra Olgin/SC Public Radio

  The West family has been growing fruits and vegetables in Beaufort for more than 100 years. Fifth generation Urbie West says the farm has been through many changes, and tough years, but last fall may have been the hardest.

West and other farmers are just starting to get back in the field for the spring season after a tough fall and winter. The October 2015 floods caused hundreds of millions of dollars of damage to the state’s agriculture industry. But as the land has started to dry out and the sun has come out farmers are starting to get back to planting again.

The beach re-nourishment project is completely funded by a beach fee.
Alexandra Olgin/SC Public Radio

  Each year, millions of tourists flock to Hilton Head Island for the pristine beaches and beautiful weather. But to keep the white sand beaches healthy and slow erosion, the town replenishes the sand once a decade. Due to delays partially caused by bad weather last fall and winter the project will now coincide with the peak summer tourism season.

Hilton Head Project Director Scott Liggett spends years planning these beach renourishment projects.