Elections

Hilton Head Ward 3 candidates try to distinguish themselves at first of three forums

Candidates running for the vacant Ward 3 seat on Hilton Head Island Town Council presented their platforms Monday afternoon at a forum hosted by TidePointe.

Beaufort County Councilman Steve Baer, 67; Lee Edwards, 43, president and CEO of a Hilton Head-based landscaping company; marketing representative Ryan McAvoy, 31; marketing consultant David Warren, 55; and retired money manager Peter Zych, 71, are vying for the seat vacated by new mayor, Drew Laughlin. The council term expires in December 2012. The election is Feb. 15.

Ward 3 includes Spanish Wells, Wexford, Long Cove Club, Indigo Run, Point Comfort and Shipyard Plantation.

More than 50 people attended the forum.

DREDGING

Baer said he is adamant public funds -- including accommodations and hospitality taxes -- not be used for private enterprise. He said he'd like to see a independent engineering study paid for by the town, Harbour Town boat slip owners and Harbour Town merchants to determine how much needs to be dredged, "where it comes from, who benefits, where it goes and what it will cost."

Edwards said the town should provide oversight and management of island dredging projects to make sure such projects are "done in an environmentally sustainable way." He said the town should do everything to protect those marinas, but not pay for dredging. Instead, Harbour Town boat slip owners and other commercial interests should foot the bill.

McAvoy said the community cannot afford to have Harbour Town "shut down."

"If they need (the town's help) and (the town) can help, then we need to help them," he said.

As for how to get it done, he said there are companies willing to move ahead with the project by filling "geo tubes" with potentially hazardous sediment that would have to be hauled by truck to an inland disposal site.

Warren said the town needs to avoid a "slippery slope" by getting involved in the dredging and repair of private waterways and that public money should not be used.Zych said the town should remain a limited government and, if elected, will resist calls to use tax dollars for purposes other than normal municipal expenses.

"I will not ask taxpayers to subsidize private interests," he said.

Zych, though, did say the town should oversee dredging operations to make sure "no short cuts are taken."

AIRPORT RUNWAY

Bear said the town, county and opponents of tree trimming need to first come to a compromise so the airport can meet federal safety guidelines. That would allow the airport to retain commercial turboprop service, he said.He added that numbers provided by a county- and town-hired consultant are flawed and need to be re-worked. The approved master plan calls for a two-phased extension of the 4,300-foot county-owned runway first to 5,000 feet and later to 5,400 feet. Expansion proponents say a 5,400-foot runway could accommodate larger regional jets at restricted loads under favorable conditions.

Baer disagrees, saying a longer runway would be needed and said any extension to allow regional jet service should go to a referendum. He also suggested the airport instead extend the runway to 4,600 feet on the south end, which would allow commercial airlines to fly aircraft fully loaded to all regional major hubs, including Orlando.

Edwards said he favors extending the runway to 5,000 feet.

"I don't think most people are against the expansion of the airport if we can do it within the existing envelope of the property lines," he said. "Having commercial air service is incredibly important for our island. We need it to bring in visitors and to bring in future home owners. A two-phased expansion is an acceptable move so far."

McAvoy said he favors extending the runway because Joe Fraser Jr., brother of Sea Pines founder Charles Fraser, supports the idea and said 5,000 feet is adequate.

Warren said he too supports extending the runway to 5,000 feet, which will "keep the commercial airlines happier."

Zych said he believes the issue is "a case for the courts," but believes a voter referendum should be held for extending the runway to 5,000 feet.

THE HERITAGE

Baer said he's not prepared to lose the Heritage golf tournament and said the county and town need to seek approval from the PGA Tour to gather a group of five to six sponsors - including the county, town and state each contributing $1 million to the tournament. Other sponsorss would include hotels, resorts and other business that largely benefit from the tournament. The county and town already pledged $1 million each to the tournament.

He said he does not want to see the tournament supported through a sales tax and said the county and town's share could come from accommodations and hospitality tax revenue. He said the admission's price for the tournament should be increased, as well.

Edwards also supports the idea of seeking multiple sponsors for the golf tournament.

McAvoy said he's been leaving phone messages with Google officials across the country in an effort to persuade the software giant to sponsor the tournament.

"To me, it's a no-brainer. Why wouldn't a company fall over themselves to have this?" he said. "I've been leaving messages like you wouldn't believe ... Of course, we're not going to give up on this. I will continue to go in day-in and day-out to do what I can."

Warren said neither taxpayers, the county nor town should sponsor the Heritage, but does not want to give up on the tournament.

"The tournament is critical to the branding of Hilton Head," he said.

Zych said the business community should step up and sponsor the tournament.

"The Clemson University study says the tournament generates about $80 million that passes through the business community's hands," he said. "Why not marshal 11 percent of that from the businesses who benefit from the tournament to come up with the $9 to $7.5 million needed?"

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