County puts businesses in limbo on relocating

info@islandpacket.comJuly 30, 2013 

The Deep Well Project's building, shown Monday, is being told to relocate due to its proximity to the Head Island Airport.

JAY KARR/THE ISLAND PACKET

As with many things in life, timing means a lot in real estate. A good deal today could be gone tomorrow.

Beaufort County owes it to the businesses that must get out of the way of Hilton Head Island Airport operations more than a somewhat vague assertion that they have to go. They need a date certain and the money to move in the meantime should opportunity present itself. The state of limbo they are in today is unacceptable.

More than a year after notifying businesses that sit too close to the airport runway that they must move, nothing has happened. Beaufort County hasn't asked for the federal money available to help pay for relocating. County engineering director Rob McFee says county staff has been too busy with an environmental assessment and a terminal expansion to apply for the money from the Federal Aviation Administration. The county, not the businesses affected, must apply.

The situation at The Deep Well Project, a vital charitable organization, is a good example of why this a bad way to handle the situation. 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 happened, Deep Well's future is difficult to plan, executive director Betsy Doughtie said.

Without the relocation money, there is little point of doing much more than looking, Doughtie said, noting that the recent increase in real estate prices hasn't helped.

"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.

She's right, and the county should take into account such circumstances. Attorney Josh Gruber said the businesses would get nine months to a year's notice from the time the FAA approves the grants before they must locate, giving them plenty of time to find a new location.

But what if a good opportunity presents itself today? Is it right that it must be passed up because county staff hasn't applied for the federal money?

McFee said relocating the businesses was necessary because they 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 800 feet of the runway. The FAA has been waiving the violations but doesn't want to continue.

It should be noted that the Deep Well facility was built in 2004. If the location was a problem then, the organization should have been told or not allowed to build there.

If the people who work at and patronize these businesses are potentially at risk, all the more reason to put getting the federal money to help them relocate at the top of the county staff's to-do list. And the county should add to that list looking for ways to front money for the relocations as it waits for the federal money to come in.

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