Incumbent Drew Laughlin and his four challengers for mayor of Hilton Head Island met Monday night to discuss issues facing Ward 1.
The two-hour question-and-answer session covered the Mitchelville Preservation Project and water and sewer coverage on the north end, among other topics.
Here's what Laughlin and his challengers -- David Bennett, Joe DuBois, Cork James and Rochelle Williams -- said they will do for residents if elected Nov. 4.
MITCHELVILLE PRESERVATION PROJECT
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Some residents wanted to know how each candidate would help make Mitchelville, America's first post-Civil War settlement for freed slaves, a tourist destination and historical landmark. The Mitchelville Preservation Project is working to turn the site into such a location.
Laughlin, a Spanish Wells resident, said the town has taken steps to preserve and promote the village.
It has donated 20 acres of land in Fish Haul; given money to the Mitchelville Preservation Project; and worked to have the village featured in US Airways and National Geographic magazines and on the British Broadcasting Corp.
The mayor said he touted Mitchelville during a national radio spot with CBS News travel correspondent Peter Greenberg.
"I see great things for Mitchelville," he told 60 people Monday at Mt. Calvary Baptist Church. "We support them and will continue to support them."
Bennett, a Palmetto Dunes resident, said the mayor isn't doing enough for Mitchelville, which Bennett calls a "major economic development opportunity."
He said he would provide more public money and work harder to promote the project nationally.
"If I'm the mayor, I'm picking up the telephone ... I'm finding national sponsors that can step in and bring the project to where it should be."
DuBois agreed, saying he would require that the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce give a percentage of annual funds to the project.
"The Town Council has the ability to say, 'We won't give you any more money to market Hilton Head unless you make this a priority,'" said DuBois, a Port Royal Plantation resident. He said that hasn't happened because "certain leaders in town don't view it as profitable as other uses of funds."
Williams, a Spanish Wells resident, said the project needs to move faster.
"We need to get Mitchelville on the map -- the sooner, the better."
James said residents near Mitchelville should decide what to do with the village.
"It should be up to them if they want to develop it or preserve it."
WATER, SEWERS AND UNPAVED ROADS
Many native islanders have called expanding water and sewer coverage a pressing issue in their communities. They've also said paving dirt roads is a public safety issue worthy of more attention.
Laughlin called sewers "a challenge to extend" but said the Hilton Head Public Service District has increased access since he started on council in 2003.
Then, two-thirds of residents had access to the utility; now 93 percent have sewer service, he said.
He pointed to a special tax district that has helped pay for several of the utility's projects, including a recent sewer extension on Squire Pope Road.
He said paving dirt roads are also a priority.
"I see it as a safety issue," Laughlin said.
Earlier this year, council agreed to double funding to $50,000 to acquire private dirt roads. The town owns 13 out of about 70 dirt roads, many of them in Ward 1. Its intent is to eventually pave them all.
Bennett wants to speed up the process.
He wants to spend more money on water pipes, sewer lines and dirt roads.
"It's embarrassing that we as a community, one of the wealthiest communities on the eastern seaboard, are still talking about sewers and paved roads," he said. "It's 2014 -- that's embarrassing."
DuBois agreed. He said roads must be paved and sewer service provided to Ward 1 residents before the town focuses on further development.
"Without a sincere effort to protect residents, we're moving in the wrong direction," he said. "It seems like the current mayor and council don't care as much about Ward 1 as they do about developing Hilton Head at each opportunity."
Williams' campaign platform is focused chiefly on extending sewer and water service.
She said she is sick of hearing from town officials who say it's difficult to provide access because much of the land sits on heirs property -- land handed down through generations with no clear title holder.
"The town can find ownership when they are ready to buy the land for themselves. They find all the heirs then," she said. "But when we need sewers, they have excuses, like they can't find the heirs."
James said "his gut" tells him most Ward 1 residents "aren't concerned with water and sewer."
"They like the open space, the room they have, the pristine beauty and the natural habitat," he said. "Water and sewer is expensive -- they can do what they want with their properties."