Lady’s Island property owners angered by an initial proposal to remove hundreds of their trees near the Beaufort County Airport are seeking a compromise.
Beaufort County airports director Jon Rembold and consulting engineers first proposed removing trees within 10 feet of the airspace and taller. That would have brought down more than 500 trees.
After a contentious January meeting in which property owners protested the plan, the county and its consultants agreed to trim the trees where possible. The number of trees saved by trimming will be significant, but an exact number is not yet known, Rembold said.
Project representatives told affected property owners Thursday that the initial idea was based on a Federal Aviation Administration preference that trees be cut to the ground.
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The federal grant that would fund most of the project is a one-time payout, Rembold pointed out. The money is a chance to cover costs property owners would otherwise be responsible for paying under state law, he said.
“That was our first cut at it,” said Pat Turney, an engineer managing the project for Talbert, Bright & Ellington. “We wanted to get your input.”
Turney and Rembold presented different options Thursday. Trees broaching the airspace can be trimmed to 10 feet below encroachment of 5 feet below, depending on what they can handle and still survive.
If owners want certain trees removed, as some have requested of their pines, that is also an option. Arborist Michael Murphy will evaluate each tree to determine what level of trimming it can withstand, Turney said.
The work is part of an FAA push to clear airport approaches, Rembold said, which is why the grant is available.
The project will be awarded to the lowest qualified bidder before the grant application to the FAA with the proposed cost. The federal grant would pay 90 percent, the state 5 percent and county 5 percent, Rembold said.
He hopes to finish the project by the end of the year.
There’s a breach of trust here. How do we know what you’re doing now is the right thing?
Benji Gecy, of River City Developers
Some of the property owners are still wary of a 2008 trimming and cutting project during which they say established guidelines weren’t followed.
Jerry Burris, whose family owns property across Sea Island Parkway from the airport, pointed out that hundreds of stumps remain from the previous project despite an agreement they be taken to the ground. Grinding Burris’ old stumps might be possible during the current project, said Judy Elder, with Talbert, Bright & Ellington.
Burris is also trying to get answers from the county related to $100,000 worth of new landscaping he said is owed as mitigation from the previous cutting. County attorney Tom Keaveny said Thursday’s meeting was the first he has heard of Burris’ agreement and that he is willing to meet with Burris.
No one who oversaw the 2008 project is involved now, Burris was told Thursday.
Benji Gecy, whose River City Developers has a neighborhood in the affected area, said at Thursday’s meeting the county’s most recent proposal was a “totally different story” from the initial notices and has fueled the property owners’ skepticism.
“There’s a breach of trust here,” said Gecy, whose development’s trees are protected under the airspace by an avigation easement. “How do we know what you’re doing now is the right thing?”
The project’s managers promised oversight as the process moves forward. A Talbert, Bright & Ellington inspector will be on the property to ensure established guidelines are followed, they said.
Murphy, with Preservation Tree Care, has the skill to save as many trees as can be trimmed, Rembold said.
“He’s going to put his eyes on every single tree,” Turney said.