Residents make last-ditch appeal to halt tree trimming at Hilton Head airport

Property owners living near Hilton Head Island Airport made a last-minute bid Friday for a moratorium on tree-trimming at the runway's ends, but to no avail.

Members of the Palmetto Hall Plantation and Baygall property owners associations, along with the St. James Baptist Church congregation, sent a letter Thursday to the Hilton Head Island Town Council and Beaufort County Council requesting all scheduled tree work on and off airport property be halted.

They say the tree work will eliminate a natural sound barrier, leading to increased noise from air traffic. The result, they say, will lower their quality of life and property values.

Bob Richardson, president of the Palmetto Hall Plantation POA, and others expressed concerns during a public meeting Friday at the Hilton Head library intended to explain a $50,000 noise study being paid for by the county and the town to try to allay residents' fears.

Work is slated to begin Oct. 1 to remove and trim about 1,400 trees on the north end of the runway. The tree removal and trimming is being done to comply with federal regulations prohibiting obstructions within the runway's approach slope.

"These trees have been identified as a safety hazard for a lengthy amount of time and need to be addressed," said county airports manager Paul Andres.

Richardson and other property owners say they want assurances the county and town will lessen noise and pollution levels expected to increase because of the tree work.

Property owners also asked that the cutting be halted until:

Noise levels will be recorded today, Sunday and Monday prior to the tree cutting. Noise levels will be recorded again after the cutting has been completed, said county administrator Gary Kubic.

Observers will record noise generated from arrivals, departures and run-ups at the runway from four locations at the north end of the airport. Measurements will be taken at two sites at the same time on opposites sides of the runway. An observer also will be in the air traffic control tower keeping notes on runway use, time, wind direction, aircraft type and estimated altitudes, said Andrew Harris, the consultant conducting the study.

Residents criticized the duration of the study, saying measurements should be taken over a longer period to collect samples from the various aircraft that use the airport, specifically jets, which cause the most irritation.

"We picked the weekend, because weekend days tended to be busy," Harris responded. "We felt we would get a good mix of aircraft."

If sound levels increase significantly as a result of the tree cutting, the consultant would recommend ways to lessen noise, Andres said.

A report will be submitted and results discussed at a public meeting after the cutting has been completed, he said.