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Sandy Island: Lack of funds still holds up ferry service

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

On the eve of the second anniversary of a boat accident that killed three Sandy Island residents, members of that community are still waiting for action that would make travel to the island safer.

The tragedy gave new urgency to an old entreaty as island residents came forward to ask Georgetown County Council members to start a ferry service for the island.

Council members established a task force in 2009 to look into the matter and that led to the acquisition of a vessel to provide the service just a few months ago.

But how and if the service will be funded is still uncertain.

“The problem has not been solved, but progress has been made,” Council Member Jerry Oakley said.

Oakley and other county officials said they don’t see any way the process could have been expedited.

“The issues involved proved to be more complicated than some had anticipated,” Council Chairman Johnny Morant said.

The county encountered resistance to offering assistance from some segments of the population, and there were questions about who should have responsibility for a ferry service.

“South Carolina isn’t in the ferry business like North Carolina is and the Department of Transportation doesn’t necessarily want to take on the proposition of furnishing transportation there,” Oakley said. “It’s not really a local responsibility, so there was a challenge in determining who was going to take the lead.”

That role was ultimately assumed by Coast Regional Transportation Authority.

The agency obtained a grant to help operate the service more than a year ago, but has yet to secure matching funds. Its director, Myers Rollins, said he will approach council and school district officials in the near future to ask them to commit funding.

“We just want to make sure we have our ducks in a row first and we’re doing something that’s sustainable,” Rollins said. “That’s the part we’re working on now.”

He wants to be able to identify at least five years of funding for the service, he said.

The Feb. 18, 2009, accident and ensuing ferry efforts have sparked interest from SC ETV in updating a documentary it filmed about the island several years ago for one of its shows, “Carolina Stories.”

Called “Saving Sandy Island” the documentary debuted in 2006 and focused on preserving the island’s culture and resources. Most of the island is now owned by the Nature Conservancy.

One of the victims of the boat accident, Rishard Pyatt, is reported to have been interviewed during filming, though the footage wasn’t used.

The film won two national industry standard awards: a CINE Golden Eagle and a Telly.

An update of the documentary has been proposed, but “it hasn’t been green-lighted yet,” said Rob Schaller, an ETV spokesman. “There are still a lot of processes to go through.”

Those include writing a synopsis for the film, weighing it against other projects in line and looking at financial resources available for the project.

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