Move quickly to settle dispute over airport trees

A faster resolution to the legal dispute over cutting trees at Hilton Head Island Airport is welcome.

Master in Equity Marvin Dukes ruled March 31 that a jury trial was not necessary in a lawsuit filed by St. James Baptist Church over the county's tree cutting plan and the Town of Hilton Head Island's permit to allow it. Turning down the church's request for jury trial should speed up the process.

It's past time to get this settled. This round of tree trimming and cutting has been under debate for more than five years. The Federal Aviation Administration has warned that trees are intruding into the airport's published flight paths. The trees are only growing taller.

The adjustments that have to be made as a result mean fewer passengers can fly out on commercial carriers, airline officials have said.

Last year, the FAA awarded $1.5 million for the work. It had been scheduled to start last October after the town issued a permit in September. The county has three years to spend the money.

The church had objected to the permit, but the town's Board of Zoning Appeals decided the town had followed proper procedures.

The church also objects to the appeals board's hearing of the case and maintains it should have gone to the town Planning Commission.

All of this is to stop the county from removing trees on airport property. The church says the trees provide a natural sound barrier and buffer.

The church's attorneys also say removing the trees would lower the value of the church's property, but what does that matter if the church doesn't plan to sell it?

The county website lists the market value of the church's 1.71 acres and building at $658,649; its property tax bill for 2010 is $175.90.

A hearing on the lawsuit's merits is now set for April 21. We hope Dukes continues to move this case expeditiously and issues a decision as soon as possible.T

The church could appeal his decision if it doesn't go the church's way. The same holds true for the town or the county.

Let's bring this to a merciful conclusion. If the county's permit isn't valid, then the county and the town should do what it takes to correct it.

In the meantime, the trees keep growing.