Beaufort News

Church asks judge to reconsider airport tree-cutting ruling

A historic, native-island congregation on Hilton Head Island has asked a judge to reconsider his May 13 order that allows airport tree work.

A church attorney also said the congregation only wants to prevent trees from being removed and would not fight efforts to trim them.

Beaufort County Master in Equity Marvin Dukes III dismissed the church's challenge of a town permit for the county to trim and remove about 1,400 trees at the north end of the runway to meet federal safety regulations.

St. James Baptist Church filed a motion May 23 asking Dukes to reconsider that decision.

The church, on Beach City Road north of the county-owned airport, filed a lawsuit in January aimed at stopping tree-cutting on airport property. Church members say tree removal would destroy a natural sound barrier and buffer. The suit says the town's zoning board improperly denied their appeals and a town ordinance allowing the tree work is invalid.

Dukes, however, ruled the board acted within its authority and said the church failed to prove any damage would come from the tree work. The church's May 23 motion reiterates those claims dismissed by Dukes.

The town, in its response, said the church's motion "does nothing more than to assert that the court should have ruled" in its favor.

St. James attorney Dale Akins also disputed claims by county attorney Lad Howell that the church would challenge efforts to trim rather than remove trees.

"My client has always said trimming of trees is acceptable to them," Akins said. "We would welcome them to trim the trees and have welcomed that from the beginning."

County Council ultimately voted May 23 to reaffirm its commitment to removing the trees.

The church's lawsuit comes with a stay to prevent tree work, according to town and county attorneys' interpretations of S.C. rules of civil procedure. Howell told County Council the quickest way to proceed is to file a motion requesting a judge lift the stay. A majority of council agreed.

Seeking an end to the stay would occur if the church appeals a final judgment from Dukes. The church would have 30 days to file with the S.C. Court of Appeals, town and county attorneys said.