Sea Pines boards rescind support for dredging bill

Bowing to community outcry, Sea Pines leaders agreed Tuesday not to call for a special tax district to pay for dredging the community's waterways.

The Sea Pines property owners association and Community Services Associates boards voted overwhelmingly to rescind a resolution pursuing legislation that would allow local government to assess property within the district without owner consent, similar to current legislation for dredging and widening canals.

Tuesday's vote followed persistent questions and opposition from the gated community's residents.

CSA board president John McLauchlin said the resolution was a "good-faith effort" by both boards to explore available financing options, but it became an "unnecessary distraction" in developing a long-term plan to resolve the community's dredging needs.

CSA maintains Sea Pines' common property.

"The community did not think that was a viable option. That being the case, we rescinded the resolution," McLauchlin said.

Similarly, Mike Hellman, president of the property owners association, said: "The board listened to property owners and reacted to their concerns."

Many Sea Pines residents have said plans for the tax district seemed to be progressing without their input. Several also said they oppose a special assessment for dredging, arguing it would benefit tourists and businesses most, while Sea Pines homeowners would bear the brunt of the cost. Others objected that the proposed legislation would not require their consent to be assessed.

Even after Sea Pines and town officials pledged that property owners would vote on creating the tax district, residents remained skeptical.

The bill passed the S.C. House in April and was referred to a Senate Judiciary Committee, of which Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, is a member.

Davis said creating the tax district is inappropriate, given the opposition and Sea Pines covenants that provide a way for owners to assess themselves for community improvements without government involvement.

To move forward, Davis must request a hearing on the bill. If no action is taken during the next legislative session that begins in January, the bill dies.

Tuesday's vote essentially guarantees Davis will not request a hearing, the senator said Tuesday in a telephone interview.

Several waterways in Sea Pines are clogged with silt, making it difficult for boats to get in or out at low tide. The problem has been discussed for years with little progress. Private groups have paid for dredging in the past, but say costs have increased to the point they are unaffordable.

Both boards vowed to find a solution to the problem and conduct a referendum of all Sea Pines property owners once a dredging plan has been finalized.

"We are going to continue to work on that until we come up with a plan that's acceptable to all," McLauchlin said.

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead

Related content:

Sea Pines officials consider short-term dredging solution: July 22, 2011Sen. Davis: Sea Pines dredging bill dead in the water: July 19, 2011

Sea Pines boards might consider rescinding dredging resolution: July 12, 2011