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    Sandy Island: Council will study ferry plan

    By Jackie R. Broach
    Coastal Observer

    While a bill that would allow the Sandy Island school boat to double as a passenger ferry is being revised in the senate, Georgetown County officials are looking at other possibilities.

    The bill ran aground in the Senate last week because of concerns over liability issues and who would pay for the additional trips between the island and the mainland. The bill calls for the county school district to assume the cost, though state Rep. Vida Miller, who had the bill drafted, said that was never the intention.

    County Council has asked staff to explore options that may allow the county to foot the bill for additional expenses and assume liability.

    “We’re trying to make sure we can assist in a valuable way and we’re looking for the best way to do that,” said Council Chairman Johnny Morant. “We want something that will help long-term and isn’t just a stop-gap measure.”

    The proposed legislation doesn’t include a schedule, but Miller based her cost estimate, $15,000 a year, on two additional trips a day.

    “That may assist the residents, but it won’t solve the problem,” Morant said.

    As council weighs its options, Morant said cost will be the major factor in determining feasibility.

    County Administrator Sel Hemingway said the matter will likely appear on the agenda at council’s meeting Tuesday, though he isn’t sure what form discussion will take. Staff may present a report to council in open session, or the issue might be brought up behind closed doors, he said.

    Council may also hear from residents of Sandy Island. A community meeting is scheduled on the island Saturday to allow residents to discuss their concerns about transportation and what actions they would like to see taken.

    If a decision is reached, residents may address council when it meets next week, said the Rev. George Weathers, who lives on the island and arranged the meeting.

    State Sen. Ray Cleary said he believes transportation to the island should be a county issue. Council should be the body determining when and how many trips are offered and accepting responsibility for ensuring funding is available, even if funding doesn’t come from the county’s budget, he said.

    There are several sources, including donations, that could be used to pay for transportation to and from the island, he said. Miller said she is still researching funding and gathered information this week about several possible grants.

    Hemingway said he is also trying to gather as much information as possible, including the history of Sandy Island’s transportation situation, and the cost of running the school boat.

    The annual average cost (calculated over a five-year period) to operate and maintain the boat is $29,500, according to Donald Tudor, director of the S.C. Department of Education’s Office of Transportation. The state pays about two-thirds. The total includes $11,745 for labor, including the captain’s salary; $6,916 for maintenance and $800 for fuel.

    Normal operation of the boat is relatively inexpensive, Tudor explained, but the boat requires major upgrades and repairs on a periodic basis to be recertified by the Coast Guard and “when that occurs, the few thousand we spend to operate it on a year-to-year basis would be dwarfed by the cost to redo the hull or something,” Tudor said. That alone might cost $50,000 or more, he said.

    The hull was redone during the period in which the average was calculated.

    The state Department of Transportation maintains a car ferry that runs to and from South Island at an annual cost of about $450,000. It runs on demand from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., averaging about 13 trips a day.

    Beaufort County contracts with two vendors to provide passenger ferry services to and from Daufuskie Island. DOT annually provides $50,000 in grant funds toward its operation and Beaufort County Council provides $75,000.

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