A $4.50 fee charged to commercial passengers leaving the Hilton Head Island Airport could be in place longer than originally planned.
Congress passed legislation earlier this year reducing federal funding for improving small airports. That means the Hilton Head airport will need to collect the fees longer to make up the loss, Beaufort County airports director Paul Andres said Tuesday.
The Federal Aviation Administration approved the fee in March to pay for airport improvements, and US Airways, the airport's lone commercial carrier, began adding it to fares May 1.
The county expects to collect about $250,000 a year and had planned to accumulate about $2.7 million over 10 years. Now, it appears the county will need to collect the fee four years longer than first anticipated to pay for its increasing share of project costs, Andres told the County Council's Public Facilities Committee.
"We'll need to collect slightly more than $1 million extra to offset the loss in federal funding," he said.
The committee voted unanimously to recommend County Council lengthen the fee's duration by four years, to expire in August 2026.
The fee will be used to repay the county about $1.6 million for building an air traffic control tower, widening and bolstering the runway, building and equipping a new airport fire and rescue station, and tree removal. The rest would be used to cover the county's share of extending the runway from 4,300 to 5,000 feet, realigning taxiways and renovating the commercial terminal -- projects that will now receive less federal money than initially planned.
LAWSUIT FILED OVER TREES
Beaufort County and the Town of Hilton Head also find themselves in another legal fight over tree work at the airport.
St. James Baptist Church and the Palmetto Hall Plantation property owners association filed an appeal in the 14th Circuit Court challenging plans approved by the town for planting trees and plants to replace those the county trimmed and removed at the airport starting last fall.
The town's Design Review Board approved the plan May 22, and it includes planting about 1,300 trees in a 75-foot buffer along Beach City and Dillon roads and the airport's boundary with church property.
Hilton Head attorney Chet Williams argues that planting in the buffer is inadequate and that it should be extended to at least 90 feet wide to meet town requirements.
County attorney Josh Gruber contends the airport has made a stringent effort to plant a dense buffer and that the plan complies with town ordinances.