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Sandy Island: House overrides ferry veto

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

The S.C. House of Representatives voted 98-0 Wednesday to override the governor’s veto of a bill that would allow the Sandy Island school boat to be used as a passenger ferry.

Rep. Vida Miller, who introduced the bill with Rep. Carl Anderson, said she was excited over the action. She said earlier this week she was in disagreement with “a lot of things in the governor’s veto message” and was “ready to fight” for the legislation.

The bill will now have to go before the Senate for a vote, likely by the end of the week. Sen. Ray Cleary said he expects the veto will be overridden there, too.

The bill was put forth as a response to the drowning of three people when a boat bound for Sandy Island capsized Feb. 18.

The school boat is being considered by Georgetown County as a short-term solution to providing public transportation to residents of the island, which is accessible only by boat.

Gov. Mark Sanford vetoed the bill May 6, citing concerns about who would pay the cost of operating the boat as a ferry and the precedent it would set.

“We need to be careful about not backing our way into a state ferry system or opening the floodgates to using state property for well-intended, but wide-ranging, interests outside of the statutory framework used to justify the state’s involvement and spending,” Sanford wrote in a letter to House members explaining his decision.

Miller argued the precedent has already been set for the use of school vehicles in a public capacity. That’s seen in the use of school buses in evacuations, she said.

While Georgetown County looks at expanded use of the school boat as a stopgap solution to getting people to and from Sandy Island safely, it is also investigating long-term options, including the purchase of a passenger ferry or car ferry.

Four-page surveys were given to residents and property owners last month to gather information about their travel habits.

Sixty of the surveys were returned this month and are being analyzed by Coast Regional Transit Authority to help determine what type of transportation would most benefit island residents, and when and how often trips between the island and the mainland should run.

The surveys are being tabulated and Coast RTA hopes to have the results ready by the end of the week to present to a committee appointed by County Council, said Dave Bodle, marketing director for Coast RTA.

The authority has already started seeking funding for whatever option the committee decides to recommend to council once the study period is complete.

Coast RTA submitted a grant request for $616,500 through the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Bill. The bill is set to expire in September, but is expected to be renewed.

“We can’t say we’re in a great position to be funded or that the bill will even exist next year, but the grant has been written and submitted,” Bodle said.

If the bill is renewed, he expects to know by the first of the year if Coast RTA received funding.

The majority of the request would go toward purchasing a vessel, he said. Grant money would also be used for improvements to the docks at Sandy Island Landing and on the island.

County Administrator Sel Hemingway said he and Coast RTA officials learned about the grant through a memo from U.S. 1st District Rep. Henry Brown’s office.

Brown said he was “deeply impacted” by the Feb. 18 tragedy and is pleased to work with island residents and Georgetown County to help find a way to provide safer transportation to the island.

Bodle said Coast RTA is also pleased to be involved in the effort.

“We feel great excitement for this project,” he said. “It’s genuinely a worthwhile project and obviously a new item for us. We’ve never been in the ferry boat business, but a number of our contemporaries are, so we’ve been able to school ourselves on it real quick, thanks to their help. We feel very strongly about this and are at a place where we feel it can really start to move forward.”

The committee is expected to meet to review the survey results by the end of next week, Hemingway said.

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