Ward 2 candidates differ on airport, recycling plan

Candidates running to represent Ward 2 on Hilton Head Island Town Council agree on the need to create an economic development corporation to attract new business and lead redevelopment, but disagree when it comes to the airport and an islandwide recycling program.

Bill Harkins is seeking re-election to the seat, which represents most of Hilton Head Plantation. Harkins won a 2009 special election to replace Bill Mottel, who resigned for health reasons. Harkins will again face a foe from that race, Terry Conway, in the nonpartisan election Nov. 2.

Harkins, a retired hospital CEO, and Conway, a certified public accountant, participated in a forum Tuesday at the Hilton Head Plantation House moderated by the League of Women Voters of Hilton Head Island.

Harkins said the town should learn from Columbia and Greenville, which have successfully used public-private partnerships to revitalize aging and neglected areas.

"Economic development corporations operating as (nonprofit organizations) have much more flexibility than the town has in terms of leveraging assets and using tax-exempt financing" to support private development, Harkins said. "That is an effort we should model."

Conway agreed.

"We also need to look at implementing recommendations in the (Mayor's Task Force for the Island's Future) report to create an economic development leadership commission and a venture capital fund," Conway said. "Some of these efforts will cost lots of money ... but we should not be frightened away from it because it's a big number."

Both agreed such an entity could help revitalize commercial centers such as Coligny Plaza and the Mall at Shelter Cove.

"The town should serve as a spark to start the fire of redevelopment," Harkins said. "Time is not on our side."

Conway and Harkins both support recycling, but Conway favors a single-hauler plan currently before Town Council, and Harkins does not.

Town Council is considering a five-year franchise agreement with Republic Services for residential waste and recycling collection.

Conway said selecting one hauler would lower prices for many and reduce wear and tear on roads.

Harkins said the town should require all island waste haulers to provide recycling, allowing residents to choose from the marketplace.

For the Hilton Head Island Airport runway, Conway favors an extension to 5,000 feet, and Harkins supports a consultant's recommendation for a 5,400-foot runway.

"That will serve the needs of the community long term," Harkins said. "We should not be constrained by the airport's current footprint."

Conway said the airport should be kept within its "fencing."

"Beyond that you have to change the direction of Beach City Road ... and acquire property," he said. "It will be a lawyer's delight."

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