Residents weighed in on an environmental assessment of the runway expansion at Hilton Head Island Airport during a largely constructive -- but at times contentious -- informal meeting Wednesday with the project's supporters.
Nearly 150 attended the gathering, which took place at the Hilton Head Island branch of the Beaufort County Library and offered the opportunity for input on a recently completed analysis of the ecological impact of the first phase of the runway's lengthening.
Almost all of that input was negative, as residents expressed concerns that the project would create noise pollution, deforestation, and decreased property values.
Many gathered around county airports director Paul Andres as he stood beside several posters with varying noise levels superimposed on a map of the area.
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A Day-Night Average Sound Level (DNL) -- a unit of volume similar to a decibel used by the Federal Aviation Administration -- of 65 would expand and shift slightly with the lengthened runway, but not enough to impact residential properties, Andres said.
The FAA established 65 DNL as the threshold above which aircraft noise is considered too loud for residential areas, he said.
That explanation was not enough to placate Joe Bradley, one of many Palmetto Hall Plantation Club residents -- the neighborhood and airport are separated by Beach City Road on the island's north end -- in attendance.
"It's been real loud; they must have broken a lot of chainsaws cutting down all those trees already," Bradley said. "I wouldn't let them come down my street with a butterknife."
Beaufort County and Town of Hilton Head councils adopted a master plan in October 2010 calling for a two-phased extension of the 4,300-foot runway to 5,400 feet. The work is designed to ensure the future of commercial and private air service on the island.
The first phase, which was discussed at Wednesday's meeting, calls for a 700-foot extension.
Another poster outlined the projected annual economic impact the expansion would bring through increased visitors -- $117 million in Beaufort County, $151 million in South Carolina -- though that, too, was met with skepticism.
"I see all these numbers, all this math," said Palmetto Hall resident Fred Goulet. "I don't see a single thing about people in the neighborhood."
Another Palmetto Hall resident, Bob DiJianne, said the economic projections fail to take into account a decline in home values the expansion could precipitate.
"The day they cut these trees," he said, pointing at a map, "about 40 to 50 homes are going to lose $100,000 in property value overnight."
A box to contain attendees' written concerns was on a table in the center of the room. Judy Elder of Talbert & Bright, an airport consulting firm involved in the project, said the comments would be reviewed by the FAA.
Airport officials say Hilton Head has the shortest runway for commercial service in the continental U.S.
The FAA -- which would pay for most of the improvements with money from user fees and taxes on items such as airline fares, air freight and aviation fuel -- approved the plan last fall.
Reporter Tom Barton contributed.