A dispute in Congress that led to the partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration has put tree-cutting and implementation of a master plan at the Hilton Head Island Airport on hold.
Five pending grants totaling more than $2 million for the county-owned airport cannot be issued because of the stalemate between Republicans and Democrats, according to county airports manager Paul Andres.
The FAA's operating authority expired over the weekend. As House and Senate leaders debate legislation to keep the agency operating, dozens of airport construction projects across the country have been put on hold and thousands of federal employees furloughed.
About $2.5 billion in federal airport construction grants nationwide can't be processed as a result, FAA officials said.
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The shutdown means the island airport cannot proceed with an estimated $580,000 cost-benefit analysis and environmental assessment required to put into action part of a 20-year master plan, including extension of the 4,300-foot runway to 5,000 feet.
Efforts to move forward with trimming and removing trees north of the runway off airport property also are on hold, Andres said.
"The tree project is a safety issue, and we would like to move forward as quickly as we can, and proceed with the (cost-benefit analysis and environmental assessment) to keep the recommendations of the master plan moving forward," he said.
Tree work on airport property has been delayed by a legal challenge by St. James Baptist Church. The historic native island congregation argues tree cutting will remove a natural sound barrier and buffer, damaging the church.
Town and county officials say much of the trees' canopies need to be removed to meet federal safety guidelines for takeoffs and landings.
At the same time, county officials are attempting to move forward with trimming and removal of hundreds of trees on surrounding property that is also needed to meet federal safety guidelines.
Other airport grants affected by the shutdown include:
"My understanding is the FAA was programming funds for these projects. Once the furlough ends, hopefully, they'll be able to take action in making the grant offers," Andres said. "It just delays the process. For how long? I don't know."
The Associated Press contributed to this report
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.