Popular vote: Hilton Head Island Mayor David Bennett

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David BennettQuestion. What do you think the role of the town or local government should be in addressing workforce housing?

Answer. We have the opportunity to build community and ease traffic by reducing our reliance on workers who reside off-island. The town should advocate for high-quality housing that fits our island’s character and is owned and operated by the private sector. And town staff should take the role of a clearinghouse, matching supply and demand, identifying and vetting partnerships and other opportunities and ensuring long-term affordability and maintenance standards. 

Q. If you had unlimited resources and creative license, how would you improve the bridges to Hilton Head Island?

A. Rebuild them — strong, beautiful and effective are the words that come to mind. Bridges worthy of picture-perfect postcards — ones that elicit a sigh of relief or a smile of joy from residents, visitors and commuters who cross them Design elements would include biking and pedestrian trails, power lines buried or incorporated into bridge infrastructure, elevation to take advantage of spectacular views and minimize risk of washouts from storm surge, and separation of eastbound and westbound lanes to create a parkway effect beginning at the landing point on the island.

Q. Since no one has unlimited resources, what do you think the scope and timeline for the bridge improvements will really be?

A. Everything I’ve described is achievable, but how we proceed is challenging. We will work with regional and state partners to find the balance between immediate structural needs, capacity limitations, funding and planning for longer-term growth. Regardless of the project’s scope, which should become clear during the next 12 to 18 months, islanders should expect construction to begin in about four to five years. 

EVERYTHING I’VE DESCRIBED IS ACHIEVABLE, BUT HOW WE PROCEED IS CHALLENGING.

Q. Saving native islanders’ properties from tax sales has been in the spotlight recently. What progress has been made, and what obstacles remain?

A. We have made significant progress, beginning with greater awareness, appreciation and concern for our Gullah neighbors and their culture. The initiative includes not only saving native islander properties from tax sales, but also preserving and enhancing the Gullah-Geechee culture.

Some highlights of our progress include:

  • Creation of the Gullah-Geechee Land and Cultural Preservation Taskforce.
  • A new staff position to serve as liaison to the Gullah community.
  • Execution of a lease with the Mitchelville Preservation Project for Fish Haul Creek Park and renaming it Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park.
  • Funding to help Mitchelville Preservation Project hire a qualified executive director.
  • More than $800,000 for planning and improvements to Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park.
  • The development and implementation of a five-year master plan to extend sanitary sewer to areas that lack it — many of which are home to native islanders. The first two years of improvements are complete.
  • Support for dirt road acquisition and paving.

Challenges to progress remain, including the need for:

  • State legislation to address issues that arise from mandated re-assessments.
  • Greater education to increase awareness among native islanders of the resources available to them.

Next month, State Rep. Bill Herbkersman of Bluffton will answer reader’s questions. Please submit questions to editor@hiltonheadmonthly.com.