A controversial Hilton Head Island tree grinding and logging operation that has already stirred opposition found new opponents Tuesday.
Citizens for Neighborhood Protection (CNP), a "grassroots organization with over 200 supporters living in neighborhoods across Hilton Head Island," announced Tuesday it has formed in response to the town's settlement agreement with ArborNature, according to Risa Prince, a Port Royal Plantation resident and co-founder of the group.
"ArborNature is our first public issue," Prince said. "We expect to be focusing attention on other issues down the road."
Prince said the agreement — and how it was reached — was "not in keeping with the spirit of why we have elected representatives." She said the agreement was reached without a public discussion.
At the April 17, 2018 Town Council meeting, mayor David Bennett stressed that the settlement was approved by a public vote.
Town council member and mayoral candidate John McCann pointed out although the vote was taken publicly, discussion happened privately and the public would not have known what the agreement entailed at the time of the vote.
Calls to Bennett and McCann were not immediately returned Tuesday afternoon.
Chester Williams, an attorney representing ArborNature, said he could not immediately comment on CNP when contacted Tuesday afternoon.
Prince said CNP wants ArborNature's grinding operation relocated to a non-residential area.
How it began
Noise complaints stemming from ArborNature's tree grinding operations began in 2015, Teri Lewis, the town's LMO official, said previously.
In May 2016, Lewis wrote a letter to ArborNature that said it was out of compliance with the LMO.
ArborNature appealed that decision, but the town's Board of Zoning Appeals upheld Lewis' decision.
ArborNature then appealed to circuit court, which resulted in the settlement agreement.
The settlement agreement itself was approved nearly a year ago, in June 2017.
According to town documents, the town agreed to lease a four-acre site on Summit Drive to ArborNature for one year for $1. ArborNature also has the option to purchase that property for $300,000.
Grinding operations can only take place between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, the agreement said.
ArborNature will also not be required to meet minimum tree regulations as long as the property is used for grinding.
Residents first spoke out against the agreement at the April 17, 2018 Town Council meeting, citing concerns that the grinding operation would cause too much noise in the Port Royal Plantation area.
At that meeting, Town Council was expected to give initial approval to the lease agreement with ArborNature, but decided to delay the vote.
Town Council has yet to take a first vote on the issue.
No public discussion?
Many of the residents who spoke at that meeting claimed they were unaware of the agreement because it was never publicly discussed.
Minutes from a June 20, 2017 Town Council meeting show that council discussed the settlement agreement in executive session. In open session, the council voted to authorize the town manager to enter into the settlement agreement and to attach a copy of that agreement to the minutes.
Minutes from a meeting are not publicly available until they are approved at the next meeting. The minutes from June 20, 2017 were unavailable until Town Council approved them at its July 18, 2017 meeting.
"There was no announcement in the agenda that it (the settlement agreement) would be publicly discussed," Prince said. "I found it not in keeping with the spirit of why we have elected representatives."
According to a CNP news release, the town's settlement agreement "merely moves the existing issue to a new location," and "undermines the recently adopted Hilton Head Vision 2040 plan."
Port Royal Plantation has also formed a task force regarding the agreement issue, according to its May 2018 newsletter.
"As soon as this matter was brought to the Association's attention, efforts were made to obtain additional information and determine what impact the relocation would have on the community," the newsletter said.
Lance Pyle, the general manager for Port Royal Plantation, spoke at the April 17 Town Council meeting and said he felt the town was pushing the problem "from one location to another."
Prince said CNP plans to "canvass" the island this weekend. About 20 people will talk to residents across the island to spread awareness of the group and the ArborNature settlement agreement.
Prince said the group's 200 members are drawn from all of the island's gated communities. Membership also includes those who do not live in a gated community, she said.
It's unclear if Town Council will discuss the lease agreement at its next meeting on June 5 since the agenda is not yet available.