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Sandy Island: Proposal calls for 35-passenger ferry on 12-hour shifts

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Georgetown County wants a handicap-accessible vessel that can carry at least 35 people and up to 14,000 pounds to provide ferry service to and from Sandy Island 12 hours a day.

Coast Regional Transportation Authority sent out a request for proposals last month, seeking bids for a contract with someone who has such a vessel and is willing to provide the service.

The agency partnered with the county and Georgetown County School District earlier this year to look at options for providing a safer way for people to travel and transport goods between the island and the mainland.

Though a ferry system is something that has been discussed on and off for decades, the matter heated up eight months ago, when three people drowned after their boat sank en route to the island.

That led the county to create a task force to investigate possibilities, including purchasing a car ferry and having the Sandy Island school boat double as a passenger ferry. The plan they’re moving forward with now would replace the school boat.

If the county contracts with a vendor to provide ferry service, the vessel included in the contract would ferry students and members of the public. That would solve liability issues for the school district that would have resulted from using the school boat as a ferry, as well as the problem of locating someone to captain the boat for trips beyond transporting students to and from school.

School boat captain Timothy “T.T.” Tucker turned down an offer to captain the boat for additional daily trips.

The contractor would have to provide a licensed captain, as well as a first mate.

Bidders were asked to submit proposals for cost of a service that would operate between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. seven days a week and include a minimum of four round trips per day. Two of those trips would be scheduled to get students to and from school.

The remaining trips would also be scheduled rather than on demand, said school Superintendent Randy Dozier, but “those logistics still have to be worked out.”

Decisions on how the contract would be funded are also still being worked out.

Dozier estimated the school district would contribute $20,000 to $30,000 a year toward the contract and the state Department of Education would probably kick in more.

Though many speculated a ferry system for the island would be an expensive endeavor, Dozier said it might actually be more cost efficient for the district and the state.

The district spends $11,246 a year on the school boat captain’s salary and a vehicle on the island that transports students once they reach the dock, said Tyrone Davis, the district’s coordinator of student services and transportation.

The state spends $14,175 a year on regular maintenance and a $1,000 on fuel and inspection fees.

Costs are significantly higher when the boat needs major repairs. And, Dozier said, it needs to be taken into consideration that the school boat is 41 years old. He said it was recommended several years ago that the boat be replaced, something that would cost $150,000 to $300,000.

“If we could do this for less money and provide better service, I don’t see why anybody would have issues with that,” Dozier said.

According to the request for proposals, the groups are hoping to enter into a one-year agreement for services, with the option to renew for three additional one-year terms. The initial agreement would begin Nov. 15.

The cost would include all expenses associated with operation of the vessel, including labor, fuel, maintenance and any licensing or certifications required by the state or U.S. Coast Guard. A provision is included for emergency usage that would require time greater than the 12 hours a day.

Potential contractors must have at least two vessels available, each approved by the Coast Guard and meeting the county’s specifications. Before a contract is awarded, vessels would have to be approved by Coast RTA, the county and the school district.

Bidders must also include a plan for how transportation services would be provided when the primary vessel is out of service or the contractor is unable to perform the service.

The contract would also require the vendor provide users of the ferry service with assistance loading and unloading items being transported, such as packages, small household appliances and building materials.

The request for proposals specifies that any vessel used has to be fitted to allow people and items to be rolled on and off, but doesn’t say whether the vessel would be able to transport a vehicle, and makes no mention of seating or a closed top.

When Coast RTA sent out an initial request for information to see who is available to supply ferry service, responses were received from several potential providers with boats adequate to provide the service, said County Administrator Sel Hemingway.

Bids are due Monday. Proposals will be evaluated by a committee of representatives from Coast RTA, the county and the school district.

According to Coast RTA’s timeline, a shortlist of bidders will be notified Oct. 12 and meetings with those bidders will be scheduled for Oct. 14-16.

Plans are to issue an award Oct. 19.

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