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Sandy Island: Council votes down resolution on ferry

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Georgetown County Council members voted 4-3 this week against supporting a resolution by the S.C. General Assembly to petition federal agencies for a Sandy Island ferry.

“The council has not taken the initiative to address this issue,” Chairman Johnny Morant said in introducing the measure for a vote. “The General Assembly has passed a resolution seeking funding at no cost to the county.”

Council Member Bob Anderson said studies have shown that operating costs of a ferry to Sandy Island would be more expensive than acquisition of one and building landings.

“We’ve already been here and taken a look at this,” Anderson said. “This, to me, is not the right approach. I’m not saying we shouldn’t address the problem.”

Anderson said he favors a bridge connecting the northern part of the island to the mainland near Bucksport.

“To go across the Waccamaw would be a huge undertaking,” Anderson said. “It’s been looked at before, more specifically as the Southern Evacuation Route. Issues with doing that include environmental concerns, not to mention a structure 80 feet off the water to allow barge traffic.”

Council Member Jerry Oakley also said he had not been persuaded that a ferry was the right solution. “If the service is not frequent, it’s not very useful, and if it is frequent, the cost is unreasonable,” he said. “We may be sending a signal down the road that we would be willing to provide financial support for a ferry. I’m not comfortable with that.”

Council Member Lillie Jean Johnson recommended listening to residents of the island first.

Johnson said that she didn’t know if the island’s residents would support a bridge. “I can remember 30 years ago when a bridge idea came up,” she said. “I don’t know that they’d even go for that. If you think it’s a good idea, it needs to be presented to the people who live there. This resolution doesn’t hurt anything. It doesn’t help. I support it.”

Sandy Island resident Charles Pyatt, an employee at the post office in Murrells Inlet, said Wednesday he is coming around to the idea of a bridge, though a ferry remains residents’ No. 1 option.

“I would like to drive up and get out at my house,” Pyatt said. “I’d like that more than anything else in the world.”

Pyatt, who turns 61 today, said he’s been having some back trouble, making his daily boat ride difficult.

Vandalism of cars at the mainland is also an increasing problem, he said.

He said residents have talked about buying their own pontoon boat as a temporary solution.

“I just hope to see the situation better before I die,” he said.

Council Member Leona Myers-Miller was more pointed in her comments about the resolution.

“We should be ready to help these individuals at Sandy Island,” she said, “if we can put a bike path at Murrells Inlet. It doesn’t sound right. This is just a resolution. We all should support a resolution. They are not asking for any funds at this time. We should find funds like we find funds for everything else that goes on at Waccamaw.”

Council Member Ron Charlton said he wanted to help the island residents but thought a committee should be appointed to look at the options. “Whatever we decide to do,” he said, “we need to know what the recurring cost is. I’d like to see a little more study.”

Morant said residents on the island need safe transportation: a small ferry or a large boat. “They are citizens, taxpayers,” he said. “They are people too. If there is anything we can do to assist, we should join the South Carolina General Assembly in petitioning the federal government in taking a leading role.

“There may be some moral obligation on our part to assist the people of Sandy Island. I don’t see where this resolution has any adverse effect on council.” Anderson said that County Council’s declining to support the resolution would send a message to the legislative delegation: “Find a different solution to the problem.”

Anderson, Oakley, Charlton and Austin Beard voted against supporting the state legislature’s efforts; Morant, Johnson and Myers-Miller voted for it.

“That’s so sad,” Myers-Miller when the resolution was defeated.

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