Business leaders and government officials in Beaufort County showered Hilton Head Island Mayor Tom Peeples with applause and accolades Tuesday during his last State of the Region breakfast as mayor.
The annual event, sponsored by Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce, marked its 15th year of hearing from top leaders representing the town and Beaufort County. Peeples, who has been in office for 15 years, is not seeking re-election this year.
"Due to your leadership, Hilton Head has numerous parks and green space, award-winning infrastructure, the Cross Island Bridge, nationally recognized beach renourishment, and arts funding unmatched by any community," chamber board chairman David Tigges said at The Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa.
County Council Chairman Weston Newton said Peeples' vision and leadership has helped turn Hilton Head into "one of the world's most popular and luxurious resort destinations and one of the world's finest places to live."
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He also praised Peeples' work in strengthening partnerships among governments, businesses and other interests across the county, and called on Hilton Head's future mayor to be as committed to fostering cooperation.
Peeples said he's had "a wonderful run." He thanked his wife, town staff, Town Council members and the crowd for their support.
Also during the breakfast, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., threw his support behind a proposal to jump-start development of a port on the Savannah River in Jasper County.
Graham said the shipping market would support such a project and called for a study examining its development.
"God dealt us a good hand. ... A Jasper County port allows us to offer services to the marketplace that complements Charleston and Savannah," he said.
The Georgia Department of Transportation conveyed the 1,517-acre port site two years ago to a new joint venture owned equally by South Carolina and Georgia. The plan was for the new port to handle shipping containers when Savannah and Charleston exceeded their capacities.
Plans for the Jasper port, however, have been put on the back burner because the recession slowed trade at the Charleston and Savannah ports.
Graham's comments followed those of state Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, who has said a Jasper County port could be built sooner by focusing on rapid-turnaround shipping business not targeted by Charleston or Savannah, such as short-sea shipping; small, independent container carriers; and refrigerated or frozen goods.
Graham also reiterated his commitment to bring five new Joint Strike Fighter squadrons to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. The Joint Strike Fighter, also known as the F-35, will replace the F-18 Hornets now based at the air station.
Beaufort County Council Chairman Weston Newton said the squadrons would bring hundreds of "new high-paying civilian jobs" and $350 million for base renovations.
Graham also addressed worries of a nuclear-armed Iran.
"We need to engage fully and completely in stopping Iran from developing nuclear technology," he said. "That's best done through sanctions, to cripple the regime and change course."
Military action, he said, should be a last resort for the United States.