Beaufort News

Church files appeal, bringing another halt to airport tree-cutting

St. James Baptist Church moved quickly to shut a narrow window allowing trees to be cut at the county-owned Hilton Head Island Airport.

The historic native-island congregation filed a notice of appeal Thursday of a May 13 order by Beaufort County Master in Equity Marvin Dukes III allowing cutting to proceed under a permit issued by the town.

Dukes denied a motion June 17 from the church to reconsider his ruling. The cutting could have occurred within a week, county administrator Gary Kubic said Wednesday.

Not anymore.

The latest appeal comes with a new stay to prevent tree work, according to appellate procedure, said count attorney Josh Gruber.

County and town attorneys said they will ask a judge to lift the stay, meaning more hearings and more delays.

Gruber said he plans to ask a judge to hear the motion as soon as possible, because of safety and economic issues.

"But it's up to the judge and the court when to hear that motion," Gruber said, adding the county plans to support its motion to lift the stay through affidavits from county airport, Federal Aviation Administration and airline officials.

The church, on Beach City Road north of the airport, sued in January to prevent tree-cutting on airport property. The church has argued that cutting will eliminate a natural sound barrier and buffer.

Dukes, however, said the church failed to prove it would be damaged.

Town and county officials say much of the trees' canopies need to be removed to meet federal safety guidelines for takeoffs and landings.

The trees also hinder airline operations, according to an official with US Airways Express, the island's lone commercial carrier.

St. James congregants say they don't oppose tree trimming, just clear-cutting. They claim insufficient attention has been given to normal tree maintenance, noise abatement and environmental mitigation.

One-time FAA funding of $1.15 million, however, would be more efficiently spent removing many of the trees to avoid future trimming costs, airport officials say.

Follow reporter Tom Barton on Twitter at