The Town of Hilton Head Island has doubled its efforts to bring asphalt to all.
Town Council set aside twice as much money this year to begin work to acquire private dirt roads. The intent is to eventually pave them and, in some cases, install sewer and stormwater systems, town staff members said.
But some who live in neighborhoods with dirt roads say the town has spent too little on the roads, which low-income residents can't afford to pave. They worry it could be decades before those roads are surfaced.
Meanwhile, they say the dirt tracks pose a threat to residents -- primarily native islanders -- because they frequently flood and are difficult for firetrucks and ambulances to travel.
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"It's time to stop putting this on the back burner," said Town Councilman Marc Grant, who represents the north-island neighborhoods. "Lives could be lost."
Town staff members have acknowledged residents' concerns, but said the issue is not as simple as buying a road and paving it.
To acquire the roads, the town must go through a long condemnation process. Then the land goes on Beaufort County's paving list. And there's no timetable for when the county will pave the roads, staff members said.
That might leave the town having to fork over yet more cash for paving.
"We're just now getting ownership of these roads," town manager Steve Riley said. "There's a real possibility we could be paving them. I think we've gone in eyes wide open since day one and realized that could happen."
A MATTER OF PUBLIC SAFETY
Grant, the councilman, said the issue is a "matter of public safety."
He voted against the town's decision to double its annual funding for preliminary work to acquire roads, from $25,000 to $50,000. He said that's not enough.
That money will pay for legal and engineering work to start condemnation of four roads near Spanish Wells and Squire Pope Road that the town wants to acquire.
Grant wanted $100,000 to target 10 dirt roads.
He said that acquiring four roads a year "isn't going to accomplish much."
The town now owns 13 dirt roads. More than 70 private dirt roads remain, according to town engineer Jeff Buckalew.
"Let's just cut through the red tape and do it," Grant said.
The Hilton Head Island Fire & Rescue Division has said some of the roads cause trouble.
When emergency vehicles travel down the narrow roads, they hit mud, sand, potholes and standing water, according to Fire Marshal Joheida Fister.
"These roads, especially when rutted or when containing large holes, reduces travel speed, which in turn increases response times," she said in an email. "In addition, they increase patient discomfort, delay treatment during transport and increase delivery time to the hospital."
Work to acquire the roads can be painstaking.
Many of the dirt roads run through heirs' property, which is land handed down through generations with no clear title-holder.
Town staff has to find and alert the title-holders. A dirt road could cut through 18 properties with 80 different title-holders, town engineer Scott Liggett said.
Then the town must condemn the property. Sometimes, the residents don't want their road paved, if it means giving up some of their land, Liggett said.
"The typical response we get is: 'I love that; that's a great idea. I would only request that you take a little more from my neighbors and leave mine intact,'" Liggett said. "You might imagine the neighbors' perspective is a little different."
After acquiring the road, the town must get it on the county's Transportation Committee paving list, which currently has about 200 roads. Only a handful are selected for paving each year, said county attorney Josh Gruber.
"There's really no indication of when it could get paved," he said.
Riley said the town has considered paving, especially as it pays to maintain an expanding list of dirt roads. He said an increase in stormwater fees could pay for it.
Dot Law, president of the Marshland/Chaplin/Gardner Property Owners Association, said the town needs to do something.
Otherwise, its decision to double funding to acquire the roads is no different than "putting lipstick on a pig."
Follow reporter Dan Burley on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.
- Beaufort County moves closer to paving of Fish Haul Road, Aug. 27, 2013
- County to begin road-paving program later this year, Jan. 18, 2009