A 14-person citizen committee — originally formed by the Town of Hilton Head Island to give native islanders input on the project that may expand U.S. 278 and the bridges to the island — has only three native islanders on it.
One of the three members, committee vice chairman DeJuan Holmes, is a former Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office deputy who in June 2018 claimed to have had sex with the Hilton Head Island high school principal inside the school.
Holmes lives in the Stoney community, a historic area surrounded by tidal marshes just east of U.S. 278’s intersection with Wild Horse Road.
The community, which every vehicle passes through on its way to Hilton Head, would likely be ground zero for S.C. Department of Transportation work.
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While creating a plan to improve the highway and bridges has just begun, the project has already been criticized, specifically by native islanders who live around the highway, for what they say is a failure to take their viewpoints into account.
At a community meeting in December, one resident said “if this road comes, it’s going to tear up this whole area” and urged SCDOT officials, who are conducting the work, to “think of the Stoney area as if you lived there.”
SCDOT project manager Craig Winn said “we’re looking for the least impactful alternative for natural and human environments” at the meeting.
But if SCDOT adds lanes to U.S. 278, it may do so over historical native islander land.
Hilton Head Island Town Council established the volunteer corridor committee in November to contribute to the SCDOT environmental study, and announced the committee members on Tuesday after weeks of interviews.
Twenty-nine people applied for positions on the corridor committee, according to Carolyn Grant, communications director for the town.
The appointment of Holmes happened before the surfacing of his claim of an affair with principal Amanda O’Nan, said Marc Grant, chairman of the community services committee that handled the application and interview process.
Several attempts to reach Holmes on Thursday were unsuccessful.
His admission, reported in The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette last week, resulted in O’Nan being placed on paid administrative leave by the Beaufort County School District, which then launched a probe into the allegation.
Grant, a native islander, said he chose Holmes because of his close ties to the community.
“I wanted him because he’s directly affected and well-respected in the native islander community,” Grant said. “He’s a good man and he knows everyone in the Stoney community. He understands the issues we’re having in terms of traffic on (U.S.) 278.”
Fellow committee member and native islander Alex Brown, who warned SCDOT officials in December that the expansion project would instill “fear and discomfort” in local communities, said Holmes’ position on the committee is crucial to its success.
“This whole idea of having this corridor committee was birthed by the native islanders because we saw this coming, and we saw no means of proper representation,” Brown said.
The committee now holds only three native islanders: Holmes, Brown and Grant.
While the original intent of the committee was to get native islanders’ perspectives, it recently morphed to include representatives from other island stakeholders as well, including bicycles safety advocates, a chamber of commerce official and members of other town committees, Grant said.
“We got people who represent the entire island on there,” he said. “The intent (of the committee) was, ‘How can we ensure that everyone has a place at the table?’”
Brown said Holmes’ recent public attention may be “a distraction” when they work on the committee together.
Grant said the people who know Holmes will trust him, and he said he “hopes” public perception of him doesn’t harm the committee’s work.
“They’ll realize he’s a good person and he has the interest of the people at heart,” Grant said.