Deep Well, others in limbo over forced relocation by airport

bheffernan@islandpacket.comJuly 21, 2013 

Betsy Doughtie, executive director of the Deep Well Project, stands behind the charity's headquarters on Beach City Road on Thursday. Behind her is the line of trees and fence that separate Deep Well from the Hilton Head Airport. Because of airport expansion, Deep Well has been told it will eventually have to move out of it's 8-year-old building.

JAY KARR — Jay Karr Buy Photo

More than a year after notifying businesses and a prominent charity that sit too close to the Hilton Head Island Airport runway that they must move, Beaufort County has yet to apply for the federal money that would help them do so.

The FAA will cover 90 percent of the land-buying costs to assist those who must relocate, including The Deep Well Project.

But county engineering director Rob McFee said county staff has been too busy with the airport's ongoing environmental assessment and a 4,250-square-foot terminal expansion to apply for the money.

"We need to finish up the projects that we have on our list now ... before we move on," McFee said. "And that's what's taking a long time."

He said the county probably would ask for the grant within a year. It could then take another year before it receives the money, county attorney Josh Gruber said.

The businesses and Deep Well cannot apply for the money themselves.

About a dozen businesses will need to move, Gruber said. A list identifying all of them was not available Friday, he said.

McFee said the relocations are necessary because the businesses already violate FAA safety rules, not because of plans to straighten, lengthen and relocate two airport taxiways and extend the runway from 4,300 feet to 5,000 feet.

He said the buildings haven't complied with FAA rules for years because they are located within the 800 feet of the runway.

The FAA has been waiving the violations. "But they do not want to continue to issue waivers with no end," McFee said. "They want it solved."

Beaufort County officials told the nonprofit Deep Well in May 2012 it would have to leave its building on Beach City Road near the airport within 13 to 24 months, assuming federal money was secured.

Because that has not yet happened, Deep Well's future is difficult to plan, executive director Betsy Doughtie said.

"When this first came out some 15 months ago, of course, we panicked and were out looking for places," she said.

Without the money, there is little point of doing much more than looking, she said, adding that the recent rise in real estate prices hasn't helped the search.

"If we went out now and got our current building assessed and went out to see what we could replace the building with, that all could change in a year," she said.

"We feel it's a done deal," Doughtie added. "But we just don't know when it's going to happen."

Once it does, Deep Well will leave the 6,400-square-foot building -- named for its founder Charlotte Heinrichs -- that the Hilton Head Island Rotary Club helped raise more than $1 million to build and maintain in the early 2000s.

Deep Well and others will get nine months to a year's notice from the time the FAA approves the grants before they must relocate. That should give them plenty of time to find a new location, Gruber said.

"There will be no surprises," he said.

Follow reporter Brian Heffernan at

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Airport expansion may force Hilton Head charity to find new home

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