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Sandy Island: Residents start raising funds to bring car ferry from Alabama

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Sandy Island residents are hoping to help the state hold on to a car ferry it was awarded by raising enough money to move the boat here from Etowah County, Ala.

The cost is projected to be about $40,000, and the funds would need to be on hand by the end of the month under the regional transportation authority’s current deadline.

The Federal Highway Administration, which made the award, gave Coast RTA until June to find the money needed to transport the ferry and put it into service running a route between the island and Sandy Island Landing on the mainland.

The idea to help the process along by having a fundraiser and setting up a nonprofit — the Sandy Island Ferry Project Group — to collect the money was introduced at a town meeting on the island earlier this month. Myers Rollins, Coast RTA’s executive director was on hand to give the residents an update on the status of the ferry acquisition project. When he told them a lack of funding might cause the state to lose the boat, they were “frustrated and disappointed, and yes, even a little bitter,” said Bill Murray, a Pawleys Island area resident who was born on the island. He is one of the organizers of the fundraiser.

“They’ve been at this thing for more than four decades,” Murray said of efforts to get a safer means of transportation to the island, which is only accessible by boat.

Their quest was given new urgency in February 2009, when three island residents drowned on their way home to the island at night during a storm. The 14-foot, 36-year-old boat they were traveling in started to take on water and capsized about 30 yards from the island’s dock.

Through the years, island residents have been given hope of getting a ferry several times, but efforts have never come to fruition.

When it looked like their hopes were about to be dashed again, “they decided, well, not this time; we aren’t going to let this happen again,” Murray said.

Donations have already started coming in.

“I haven’t checked the bank account balance, but every indication has been that people have a real positive attitude about this, because they know people have suffered through the years,” Murray said. “This last tragedy wasn’t the first one.”

If the fundraiser generates enough to get the ferry to Georgetown County, Coast RTA would still face the challenge of finding money to make boat landing improvements that would allow cars to get on and off the ferry. That’s an even bigger expense, projected to cost a minimum of $200,000.

Murray said the fundraiser won’t address that need, but Coast RTA will continue to look for funds.

The agency has been looking for about a year and a half.

“That will continue to be my focus,” Rollins said.

As for the fundraiser, “every little bit helps,” he said, but he doesn’t know how it will impact “the larger effort.”

If funds don’t materialize to cover the cost of the landing improvements and match a $148,000 grant Coast RTA received to operate the ferry, having money to bring it here “does no good at all,” said Glen O’Connell, a Coast RTA board member.

Yet having funds on hand to move the boat could help the agency leverage more time to look for money if the board agrees to request it from the highway administration.

“The decision can only be delayed as long as they allow it,” he said of the administration. “I think you have to imagine that they’re going to make some assessment in terms of the likelihood of our getting funds,” he said.

Problems finding funding was the reason Rollins last month recommended against accepting the car ferry and advised a passenger ferry instead.

Island residents plan to make a documentary of the ferry’s relocation if they reach their goal and the state accepts the boat. A copy of the DVD is one of the thank you perks large donors will receive after the fundraiser.

Those who contribute at least $500 will also be invited to a victory celebration and fish fry on the island.

A gift will also go to donors who give at least $100.

An account to receive donations has been set up at First Federal Bank. Make cash deposits at: 13021 Ocean Highway North, Pawleys Island. Checks can be mailed to P.O. Box 75, Murrells Inlet, SC 29576.

Make checks payable to the Sandy Island Ferry Project.

Pledges are also accepted at P.O. Box 500, Pawleys Island, SC 29585.

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