In a vibrant town of 40,000 permanent residents that swells as a world-class tourist destination, there are always issues and challenges that require resolution to retain and maintain its reputation and quality of life.
We reached out to a handful of leaders in their respective fields to find out their priority lists for 2017.
- Steve Riley, Town Manager, Town of Hilton Head Island
Riley knows a thing or two about administering to the town’s needs and the town council’s directives; after all, he’s been in his position for 23 years.
“The biggest issue for me, by far, is continued recovery from the storm, picking up the debris and making repairs to facilities and roads and drainage systems, and figuring out how we pay the upfront costs while we wait for reimbursement,” he said.
Estimates by the town peg $55 million for roadside debris removal as part of the more than $82 million in storm-related damage and costs. Up to 85 percent of the cleanup expenses is expected to be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“We’re making a lot of progress, but there’s an amazing amount of debris,” Riley said. He’s hopeful that all debris removal and restoration of the processing sites at Chaplin Community Park and Honey Horn Plantation will be completed by late spring.
Next up is clearing the storm water system and marine waterways, which is a different approval and funding process.
The town’s priority agenda this year also includes sewer service extensions on the north end, developing the “visioning process” and action report that will address balanced community needs in the distant future, and facilitating discussion on the state of the arts community.
- P.J. Tanner, Sheriff, Beaufort County
Like everyone and everything else impacted by the hurricane, “2016 threw us a curveball,” said Tanner, a 36-year law enforcement veteran.
The ground game in Tanner’s department for the evacuation in early October was “actually so smooth it was scary,” thanks to planning, preparation and training.
Not so much on the re-entry to the island.
A communication breakdown and “social media challenges” arrested the flow and timeliness of information to keep the public informed and current about re-entry decisions orchestrated by the state and county, he said.
“What was lacking during this storm re-entry was a single depository for information that was accurate, well vetted and beneficial to the citizens either here or out of town trying to plan and prepare for a return,” Tanner said. “What Hurricane Matthew did for us was to open our eyes to things we had not considered.”
“The biggest challenge and No. 1 public safety event” this year for the sheriff’s department is developing, designing and launching a web site with accurate, time-sensitive and factually vetted information with photos and videos during emergency situations, Tanner said.
Also on Tanner’s agenda for his department this year is equipping sheriff’s deputies with body cameras. Financing of $425,000 has been approved for 250 cameras and Cloud storage.
- Linda Piekut, Executive Director, Heritage Library Foundation
The hurricane pummeled the Zion Cemetery and Baynard Mausoleum historical area at mid-island and Fort Mitchel on the north end, tours of which are managed by the Heritage Library Foundation.
“Our issues this year are getting our site tours back up and running because we had a lot of damage at Zion and Fort Mitchel,” Piekut said.
The Foundation applied for a $25,000 small business loan to assist with the cleanup and jump-start the weekly tours of the two sites within a month.
The mausoleum was built in 1846 and is the oldest surviving structure on the island. The cemetery contains the graves and memorials of four Revolutionary War patriots, among others. This year is the second of the two-year capital fund-raising campaign to raise $440,000 to restore and repair the building and beautify the cemetery grounds, she said.
- Jeremy Clark, Market CEO, Hilton Head Regional Healthcare
The 93-bed medical center founded in 1975 strives to provide “extraordinary care for our community” every year, said Clark, who assumed his executive position two years ago.
“To help us accomplish this goal, we are focusing our efforts on increasing access to care by creating more facilities and expanding our services throughout our growing community,” he added.
Clark also oversees a variety of services at the Bluffton Medical Campus, the Bluffton-Okatie Outpatient Center and Coastal Carolina Hospital in Hardeeville. The hospital will introduce Beaufort County’s first senior emergency department next month that is “tailored to fit the needs of our community,” Clark said.
- Bill Miles, President and CEO, Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce
The chamber’s No. 1 priority this year is “continuing to grow the Lowcountry’s No. 1 economic engine: tourism,” Miles said of the 1,600-member organization. “We’re continuing to focus on bringing in more visitors and corporate business during the spring and fall. Thanks to tourism, island residents pay $1,266 less in local taxes.”
More than 2.6 million tourists annually generate about $1.1 billion in revenue.
Air service recruitment has brought Air Canada, JetBlue, Allegiant Air and Sun Country Airlines to the runway at Hilton Head Airport over the past few years – and those efforts will continue this year.
Workforce challenges also command the chamber’s attention this year.
“We have a robust economy, and our community is challenged with a sustainable workforce,” Miles said.
A summit is scheduled in the spring to define the challenges, find solutions and take action.
Dean Rowland is a veteran senior editor and freelance writer.