Stories to Follow in 2019

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FOLLOW THESE LOWCOUNTRY ISSUES THIS YEAR

Everywhere you look this time of year, you find year-end lists — the best of this, the biggest of that. But what about a year-begin list?

Here are some of the most intriguing local stories to keep an eye on in 2019:

TO DRILL OR NOT TO DRILL: In the race for U.S. Congress between Joe Cunningham and Katie Arrington, Cunningham opposed testing and drilling off our coast and upset Arrington to win Mark Sanford’s former seat. The battle continues with President Donald Trump’s approval of seismic testing off South Carolina’s coast. In December, mayors of 16 coastal municipalities — including the four in Beaufort County — joined the S.C. Small Business Chamber in a federal lawsuit aimed at halting seismic testing. The fight is certain to continue in 2019 with huge implications for our ecosystem and economy.

BUILDING BRIDGES: Beaufort County voters approved a 1-cent transportation tax in November that will go toward repairing and installing roads, bridges and sidewalks throughout the county. The bulk of the funding — $80 million — will go to traffic improvements to the U.S. 278 corridor from Moss Creek Drive to Squire Pope Road, including repairing or replacing all four spans of the bridges on and off Hilton Head Island. It will be a long process with plenty of traffic headaches leading up to the eventual payoff.

(HH)I FOUGHT THE LAW: The Town of Hilton Head Island’s complicated relationship with the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office took an interesting turn in November, when the town funded an audit that concluded residents aren’t getting their money’s worth from the town’s $3.6 million annual contract with the Sheriff’s Office. The Sheriff’s Office disputed the findings, and the tension could lead the town to create its own police force. Relations between new Mayor John McCann and Sheriff P.J. Tanner will be something to keep an eye on.

SCHOOL BOARD TURNOVER: The Beaufort County Board of Education has been dysfunctional — to put it kindly — in recent years, but there is hope that a revamped board and a new superintendent will bring change in 2019. Six of the 11 board positions turned over in the November midterms, and the new board will be charged with hiring a permanent superintendent to replace lightning rod Jeffrey Moss. With any luck, the soap opera antics of the past few years will subside. Another big issue facing the new board is rezoning, as schools in Bluffton and on Hilton Head face overcrowding.

COUNTY COUNCIL AND THE SEARCH FOR AN ADMINISTRATOR: Beaufort County Council also got a facelift during the November election, with three incumbents opting not to run for re-election. The first order of business for the new council will be hiring a county administrator and ending a saga that has dragged on since Gary Kubic announced his retirement in September 2017.

WORKFORCE HOUSING: The affordable housing crunch on Hilton Head has reached critical status, with businesses — particularly in the food and beverage industry — forced to reduce operating hours to accommodate staffing concerns. The town hired Lisa Sturtevant and Associates to study the situation and make recommendations on how to handle an issue that will be integral to McCann’s first term as mayor. It’s worth noting the lack of affordable housing is also an issue in Bluffton, but not to the same extent as on Hilton Head.

PARADE OF PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES: Believe it or not, in a few short months a parade of presidential candidates will being making their way to the Palmetto State ahead of the 2020 primaries. The South Carolina Democratic primary is set for Feb. 29, retaining “first in the South” status, and it figures to be a crowded field. Given the 1st Congressional District’s flip to blue in 2018, the Lowcountry should be a popular spot for Democratic hopefuls to stump.