Thousands of trees were cleared after Hurricane Matthew stormed across Hilton Head Island. But as the town temporarily lifted permit requirements to allow residents to clear trees damaged by the storm, officials believe some companies may have taken advantage of loosened restrictions.
Town officials say some companies cleared healthy trees without permits, using the widespread damage from the storm as cover to bypass town rules.
So far, representatives from four Hilton Head businesses have been cited for violations related to clearing healthy trees in the aftermath of the hurricane.
Each citation carries a fine of up to $1,092.
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Representatives from the Westin Hilton Head Island Resort were issued two citations and the Beach House Holiday Inn Resort was issued one for clearing healthy trees on their property without a permit, town attorney Brian Hulbert told The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette on Tuesday.
A representative of Alliance Roofing, of Hilton Head, was also cited for development without a permit which was related to some clearing of healthy trees, Hulbert said.
Representatives from the Westin, Beach House and Alliance Roofing did not immediately return calls for comment on the citations.
An employee of Premier Roofing, of Hilton Head, was also cited for clearing a tree without a permit, Hulbert said. The company is contesting the violation with photographic evidence that the tree was damaged during Hurricane Matthew, owner Derek Holland said.
The town’s system for identifying which cleared trees were healthy isn’t foolproof, Holland said.
Town officials typically identify violators based on tips from the community, said Rocky Browder, the town’s environmental planner. Inspectors can then verify tips by comparing aerial photographs taken two days after Matthew with recent images to check if upright trees with no signs of damage were removed, Browder said.
Holland said the aerial images may be misleading.
“The tree may not look like it was down, but it was propped up by the building,” Holland said. “Once they see the photographs we have of the damage to it, I think it will be a pretty simple thing to work out.”
The town will likely issue more citations as reports of violators continue to come in, Browder said.
The Omni Resort remains under investigation as town investigators distinguish which, if any, of the Omni’s approximately 100 fresh stumps were healthy trees, Hulbert said.
Contacted by the newspapers on Nov. 18, Warren Woodard, the resort’s director of sales and marketing, said he was unaware of the town’s investigation. He also said he did not know how many storm-damaged trees the company’s contractor, Bartlett Tree Experts, removed and that he had no knowledge of any improper removal.