County asks town for leniency in tree-planting at Hilton Head airport

tbarton@islandpacket.comMarch 15, 2012 

  • The public will have a chance to review and discuss progress being made on an environmental study on extending the runway at Hilton Head Island Airport from 4,300 to 5,000 feet. The meeting is scheduled for 5 to 8 p.m. April 3 at the Hilton Head Island library, 11 Beach City Road. Details:

  • The Federal Aviation Administration earlier this month approved a $4.50 per-ticket fee for commercial passengers leaving Hilton Head Island Airport. US Airways, the airport's lone airline, will tack on the charge to fares beginning May 1. Read more at reporter Tom Barton's blog at

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Beaufort County officials are objecting to Town of Hilton Head Island requirements they say will attract wildlife and pose a safety hazard at the island's airport.

Beaufort County is asking for leniency from the town in planting trees and plants to replace those it trimmed and removed at the Hilton Head Island Airport.

In a letter to town manager Steve Riley and Mayor Drew Laughlin, county administrator Gary Kubic said the requirements "will result in the creation of habitat for wildlife that could potentially pose a direct and substantial threat to aviation safety."

The county's Airports Board unanimously endorsed Kubic's request Thursday that the airport be exempt from parts of the town's land-use ordinance.

Kubic cited a letter from Federal Aviation Administration manager Scott Seritt in which Seritt objects to plants with berries and other fruit that are listed by the town. Instead, he recommends Bermuda grass, which would make the "airfield less attractive to wildlife and reduce risks to aviation safety."

The grass would be planted at the north end of the runway in an area the county clear-cut of trees last fall. The town and county have argued that the trees posed a hazard for pilots and needed to be cut to meet federal safety guidelines.

Kubic warned that if the town does not grant the county the exemption, it may request an agreement stating the town will accept the risk for "any future damages" that may arise.

Riley said the town will try to work with the county. That may require an ordinance change, he said.

He said the town sent the county a letter suggesting other types of grasses that do not attract wildlife, which Kubic's letter and the FAA's letter do not address.

"We all agreed some time ago we would pursue plants that do not attract wildlife," Riley said.


The board also discussed concerns from Palmetto Hall residents and St. James Baptist Church that tree-cutting at the airport has removed a buffer between them and the airport.

The county sent plans Wednesday for the town to approve, which include planting about 1,300 trees in a 75-foot buffer along Beach City and Dillon roads and St. James Baptist Church property.

An FAA spokeswoman last week said the county could apply for federal money to build a berm, should noise levels exceed FAA standards.

The Airports Board heard Thursday, though, that the FAA prohibits berms within designated safety areas and obstacle-free zones at the ends of runways.

Judy Elder of consulting firm Talbert & Bright said a noise study would be required to determine whether a berm would be justified. She added that when the runway is extended as planned to 5,000 feet, a berm could require the county to buy more land.

The town's Design Review Board will review the county's planting application March 27. The meeting will be at 1 p.m. in Town Council Chambers, 1 Town Center Court.

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Related Content

  1. Fight over Hilton Head airport tree work continues: March 7, 2012
  2. Hilton Head church drops appeal of airport tree cutting: Nov. 21, 2011

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