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Survey of island residents will help panel develop plan

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

The last thing Georgetown County officials want is to invest money in a ferry system for Sandy Island residents and then have no one use it.

“That’s the worst case scenario,” said Myers Rollins Jr., general manager of Coast Regional Transit Authority.

A survey Rollins and his staff designed for island residents will help ensure that doesn’t happen, he told other members of the Sandy Island Task Force during the group’s first meeting this week.

Comprised of state and local officials, transportation experts and representatives from the Sandy Island community, the group was created by Georgetown County Council to determine the best mode of public transportation for getting residents between the island and mainland.

The survey is the first step in that process and is expected to be in the hands of island residents by Monday, said County Administrator Sel Hemingway.

The four-page document will be distributed to full-time and part-time residents, as well as property owners and former residents who have voiced plans to move back to the island in the future.

It asks for information about when and how often they travel to the mainland, why they travel, how much they would be willing to pay for ferry service and what kind of items would be transported with them.

In a meeting last month, island residents unanimously agreed they want a car ferry. That’s one of three options the task force was formed to investigate. It will also look at the costs and benefits of a passenger ferry and using the state-owned school boat as a passenger ferry.

The survey will help the task force determine the actual needs of island residents and decide if a car ferry is the best option, Rollins said. It would also help determine how many cars a ferry would need to transport.

If it is determined that a car ferry best suits the residents’ needs, the financial feasibility and details of operation of a car ferry will still have to be considered, Hemingway said.

One obstacle to a car ferry is the width and depth of the canal the runs between Sandy Island landing and the Waccamaw River.

To accommodate a car ferry, the canal would have to be dredged or a road would have to be constructed along the canal to the river.

A ferry landing would have to be built on the island, too.

Questions about the kind of transportation island residents use once they arrive on the mainland are also included on the survey.

“As a mass transportation professional, I’m intrigued by what happens at that point,” Rollins said. “There may be an additional service Coast RTA can offer.”

A bus route, for example, might be timed to compliment the ferry schedule.

Residents will have two weeks to fill out the surveys and get them back to Rollins. He and his staff will then have two weeks to prepare a report on the findings.

Plans are for the report to be presented to the task force and island residents in May during a meeting on Sandy Island.

A date has not been set, but the Rev. George Weathers, a member of the task force and a community leader, suggested they meet at New Bethel Baptist Church on the island.

There was concern about scheduling the meeting when the majority of residents would be able to attend. Weathers said late afternoon on a weekday would be best, but attendance wouldn’t be an issue.

“I know these people, and if I tell them we’re having a delegation of people there to meet with them, they will be there,” Weathers said.

Although residents have requested better access than their private boats provide for many years, the issue was raised again following the drowning of three residents as they traveled home during a storm in February.

A bill to allow the school boat to be used as a ferry is pending in the legislature.

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