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By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Charles Alston’s jon boat sat low in the water as he steered it away from Sandy Island Landing one day last week.

It was weighed down with boxes — dozens of them, stacked two and three high on nearly every inch of the boat’s flat bottom, as well as the bench opposite where Alston was seated at the motor.

A family friend had already left with one load in his runabout and a pile remained on the landing. Alston would have to take his chances the boxes would be safe there until he came back after dropping off his first load.

The 25-pound boxes were filled with medical supplies Alston was delivering to his cousin, Wilhelmena Pyatt. She’s on dialysis and the supplies are vital to her survival.

But getting them home is a problem and, according to Pyatt and her family, a perfect example of why a car ferry is needed at Sandy Island.

For the past eight months, local officials have been looking into the possibility of creating a public ferry system to make transportation to and from Sandy Island easier.

Though several options are being weighed, the committee formed to make a decision on the matter seems to be leaning toward a passenger ferry as the best solution.

In a meeting between Coast Regional Transit Authority and Georgetown County School District in July, officials discussed using the school boat as a passenger ferry, but decided it might be more efficient to retire that boat and contract a vessel to serve both purposes. That would solve liability issues and the problem of locating someone to captain the boat for trips beyond the ones made to transport students.

Coast RTA sent out a request for information to see who is available to supply that service and how much it would cost. Responses were received from “three or four potential providers,” said County Administrator Sel Hemingway.

The responses came from private owners of boats adequate to provide the service, Hemingway said, a good sign folks may soon see some progress in getting a ferry started.

A request for proposal is to go out this week, he said.

While island residents say a passenger ferry would be a step in the right direction, they overwhelmingly favor a car ferry.

“Some folks look at it as something is better than nothing, which is what we’ve got now,” Alston said. “But we need a car ferry. If you can have a car ferry going to South Island, there’s no reason you can’t have one here.”

Owned and operated by the state Department of Natural Resources, the South Island ferry is mainly used to to transport employees who work on the island, and occasional tour groups. It costs about $450,000 annually.

It’s a costly venture, but operation of the ferry was part of the deal when the island was given to DNR by the Yawkey Foundation.

A car ferry to Sandy Island would make it easier to transport Pyatt’s medical supplies, she said.

Once a month, Pyatt receives 65 boxes. Normally, they would be delivered to the patient’s door, but the trucks can’t reach Pyatt’s home on the island, which is accessible only by boat.

Pyatt can’t transport them there herself, so she relies on Alston or her son, Desmond. It was Alston’s day off from work, so he met the truck driver at the landing last week.

It took half an hour just to get all the boxes off the truck and loaded onto boats. From there, they have to be transported to the dock on the island, a 15-minute trip over the Waccamaw River, and loaded onto another truck.

After a second trip to get the last load of boxes, the truck is driven to Pyatt’s house, where the boxes are again unloaded. The total amount of time for the process is more than two hours.

It’s a routine Pyatt and her family have gotten used to since she started dialysis three years ago.

While the delivery truck still wouldn’t be able to cross to the island with a car ferry, her family members could taking their truck to the landing and loading directly onto that.

It would also make it easier for island residents trying to transport large appliances or building supplies.

“You could go to Lowes, put everything in the truck and take it straight over there without having to unload and reload, then do it again,” Alston said.

Whatever the committee decides to do, Pyatt and Alston said they hope to see something happen soon.

Officials have been looking at transportation to the island on and off for decades, but discussion heated up in February when three residents drowned when their boat sank.

“Since this incident happened back in February, it seems like they’re trying to do a little bit more now, but I don’t think they’re doing all they could,” Pyatt said.

She worries the issue will be pushed aside again.

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