Hilton Head Island Mayor Drew Laughlin has the right approach to the next steps in the controversial tree cutting project at the Hilton Head Island Airport.
After getting a positive report from the aborist hired to oversee the work -- to the dismay of residents of nearby Palmetto Hall -- Laughlin said:
"I understand residents' frustration, and they and the island deserve an effective buffer between the airport, roads and nearby property," he said. "And I will do everything in my power to see that's what is done."
Laughlin said the town must make sure Beaufort County, the airport's owner, complies with the requirement to reduce the impact of trees removed for air safety by replacing them with trees that can't grow to a height that would cause a hazard for pilots.
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That should be the goal, and it is very achievable. Mother Nature will do a lot of the work if we'll let her.
The county has submitted to the town plans for planting about 1,300 trees in a 75-foot buffer along Beach City and Dillon roads and St. James Baptist Church property.
Apparently, issues to be worked out include exactly what should be planted. A Federal Aviation Administration official has said some plants in the town's approved list of replacement options could attract wildlife. He suggested Bermuda grass. The county states in its replanting application that it is considering Bermuda and other native grasses for areas outside the buffers.
But let's be realistic about wildlife in the airport area. Wherever clearing ends and buffers begin will be "edge" areas that attract wildlife. Unless the county clear-cuts all the way to Port Royal Sound and then kills off all wildlife in the surrounding area, there will be wildlife in the vicinity of the airport. All airports must contend with wildlife, and so can the Hilton Head airport.
Residents' concerns are understandable. Not only do they have to look at a clear-cut area where trees once stood, but they are concerned about noise levels after the tree removal. A noise study was done in 2010, before the cutting began. And another will be conducted after the replanting is completed and the buffers have a chance to grow back.
Residents also are rightfuly watching closely because the second phase of this project involves cutting and trimming trees on their property.
But we're not going to know the full impact of this first phase of the project until it's done and replanting is completed. Some patience is in order, in addition to vigilance in making sure the job is done right.