Without local contribution, no island ferry

  • Wednesday, May 21, 2014

About two dozen Sandy Island residents got news they didn’t want to hear on Saturday, but they did not close the door on a hoped-for boat, run in partnership with Coast RTA, that would bring residents to and from the island to the mainland dock on Sandy Island Drive in Georgetown County.

Felicia Beaty, the assistant general manager of Coast RTA, provided a history of attempts to provide the service in partnership with the residents and county, but the same problem facing the hopefuls today – a lack of local match funding – doomed each of the earlier proposals.

“Our involvement is this project is solely dependent on our ability to obtain matching funds and grants,” Beaty said, adding that that Coast officials plan to meet with Georgetown County leaders on the project.

“If they give me the boat, I can get some residents to operate the ferry service,” said Charles Pyatt, who has been using his own pontoon to provide ferry service, some of it for free for island residents.

A boat was not exactly the problem, though.

In 2009, according to the regional transit authority records, Coast RTA identified a ferry in Hokes Bluff, Ala., that would accommodate either a bus or three vehicles, and included a hydraulic lift for disabled individuals.

Federal highway funds were awarded to acquire the ferry in December of 2010, and in January 2011, the board authorized acquisition of the vessel.

However, in June 2011, Coast RTA backed out of the agreement because the cost of getting the ferry to Georgetown County was prohibitive. Coast documents show that it would have cost the authority $20,000 and $24,000 to bring the boat by water and about $60,000 to transport it by land.

In addition, there was some question, Beaty said, referring to Coast RTA documents, as to whether the Coast Guard would approve the ferry to operate.

But even with the best of intentions, the door closed on funding in 2012

“From what I’ve heard today, it’s back to square 1,” said the Rev. George J. Weathers, a Sandy Island resident. “But we are not going to back down. We are going to put our shoulders to the plow and draft on, with the help of God.”

John Thomas, who is running unopposed for the Georgetown County Council seat that represents the area, questioned whether there was an estimate of operations and maintenance costs should matching funds be found to purchase a vessel. Coast RTA officials said they did not have current estimates and would need their financial people to provide those.

Pyatt questioned the amount of $160,000 to buy a 35-foot, 26-passenger ferry; he said he had gotten an estimate of about $80,000 for a similar vessel. He agreed to provide his information to the Coast RTA board.

As it stands now, Coast RTA has been awarded $60,000 in US Department of Agriculture funds for a vessel and $50,000 for dock improvements; however, those dollars come with a need for $70,000 in matching funds. That left islanders shaking their heads

Sarah Deas, 71, who is retired, said she wants to see ferry service succeed.

“It’s been a little difficult to get in and out of those small boats,” she said, adding that her mother, who is nearly 100 years old, has even more difficulty.

“I’m a little motivated,” she said.

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