St. James Baptist Church has dropped its challenge to a May court ruling that upheld a Town of Hilton Head Island permit and allowed Beaufort County to trim and cut trees at the Hilton Head Airport next to the church.
Master-in-Equity Marvin Dukes III's May ruling was accompanied by a stay that protected the trees while the church, near the north end of the airport's runway, challenged his ruling in the S.C. Court of Appeals. However, when Dukes lifted the order in August, Beaufort County moved quickly to start the work and already has cut down some of the trees.
"Once they chopped the trees down, the appeal became moot," church attorney Dale Akins said. "No appeal will bring the trees back."
The church asked the Court of Appeals to dismiss the case, which it did in an order delivered Monday.
The historically black congregation argued the trees provided a natural sound barrier and buffer. The town and county, which asked that Dukes' order be lifted, argued the trees posed a hazard and needed to be cut to meet federal safety guidelines. Dukes said in his May 13 order that the church failed to prove it would be damaged by the work. In August, he sent an email to the parties saying he is not unsympathetic to the church's claims about increased noise but that safety trumped those concerns.
The church could sue for other relief if a nuisance occurred, Dukes said.
Work by Allcare Tree Surgery of Bluffton began in September -- it originally was to have begun in October 2010 -- and is expected to be completed by the end of the year, county Director of Airports Paul Andres said.
Smaller trees that do not have the potential to grow into the runway's approach zone will be planted to create a buffer along Beach City and Dillon roads and St. James Baptist Church property, Andres said.
The county recently received federal money to trim and remove trees outside airport property and remove obstructions from the runway's approach slope.
County attorneys are gathering easements from owners whose trees need to be trimmed or cut, granting the airport use of the property to perform the work, Andres said. So far, they've collected five of 16 required easements for the north end, he said.
Two large oak trees near St. James Baptist Church must be trimmed or removed to ensure planes can take off and land safely, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Attempts Monday to reach church deacon Perry White for comment were unsuccessful.
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