Hilton Head Island bike-rental companies are again gearing up for a fight with Sea Pines.
Last week, Sea Pines leaders approved a new fee of $1 per bike for companies that enter the gated community to deliver bicycles to visitors.
Bike companies based inside Sea Pines, however, are exempt from the fee, according to community officials.
Community Services Associates, which maintains the community's bike paths, voted unanimously to charge the fee to pay for bike-path security and maintenance, but has not decided how or when to implement it, board member Bob Mang said.
The CSA board includes representatives from commercial interests inside Sea Pines. Some of those companies -- Sea Pines Resort, for example -- provide bike rentals.
Sea Pines already charges visitors $1 per bike that they bring into the community on their vehicles. Bike companies inside Sea Pines also pay a percentage of their annual sales to CSA to maintain and patrol the community's bike paths, amounting to "tens of thousands of dollars," according to Mang.
Some question, however, whether the fee has more to do with protecting those companies from outside competition and helping CSA's bottom line than concerns about bike path wear and tear.
"It would appear that this is a blatant case of market manipulation and unfair trade practices," said Stanton Allaben, co-owner of Palmetto Bikes on Palmetto Bay Road.
CSA officials deny the accusation.
"That doesn't have anything to do with the subject," said Cary Corbitt, vice president of sports and operations for Sea Pines Resort and a CSA board member. "That certainly has never been the intent. This is truly a leisure-trail maintenance fee.
"We pay fees, as well."
Mang said the fee is needed to address bike safety, congestion, liability and path maintenance -- concerns heightened by the increasing use of the community's bike paths.
"The leisure trails are jam-packed," Mang said. "Last year, we had more than 30,000 bikes delivered in Sea Pines, and we are concerned about potential accidents."
Many visitors are from out of state and not all understand rules such as a requirement that cyclists yield to motor vehicles, Mang added.
Sea Pines recently started a program to better monitor and manage bike traffic. It includes safety information for bikers and security officers to patrol the paths.
"Maintenance and providing security for these pathways runs us about $160,000 a year," Mang said, and the fees offset some of that cost.
However, CSA board member Joe Kernan, who voted for the fee increase, says he regrets his decision and believes the board should reconsider.
"I thought it would also cause companies inside Sea Pines to pay the same fee. I later found out that is not the case," he said.
Kernan said outside rental companies should contribute to the costs of maintaining and patrolling Sea Pines' bike paths, but should do so on an equal basis and not under a different formula.
Attempts Wednesday to reach Cary Kelley, CSA executive vice president, were unsuccessful.
This is the bike companies' second fight with Sea Pines in a year.
Last winter, Sea Pines officials had planned to impose a flat fee of $1,500 for each bike rental company that brings one or two vehicles into the community, and $2,500 for those with three or more vehicles. The bike companies fought the hike, and one even hired an attorney, claiming it was unlawful to charge them more than other vendors who serve Sea Pines guests.
Sea Pines leaders subsequently abandoned the proposal. However, they raised the annual charge for four-wheeled vehicles that bike companies and other outside vendors drive through the gate, from $175 to $200 per vehicle.
CSA had scheduled a meeting with bike companies for Monday, but it has since been postponed.
"I understand the need to recover funds for bike-path maintenance ... but it needs to be fair for everybody," said James Bradford, owner of The Bike Doctor on New Orleans Road, not far from Sea Pines' main gate.
Allaben agreed, promising "fireworks" if Sea Pines does not also charge companies inside the community the same fee. Both said they would have to pass the cost on to customers.
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.