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Sandy Island: Delay in ferry plan turns attention to school boat

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A ferry for Sandy Island went from front burner to back burner in less than 24 hours this week.

Coast Regional Transit Authority requested an endorsement from Georgetown County Council this week of an application to the federal Rural Development agency for $200,000 for a pontoon boat that would serve as a ferry for island residents.

Council members, fearful of being saddled with yearly operating costs, agreed to defer the matter in a 4-3 vote along party lines with Republicans prevailing. Without Georgetown County’s support on Tuesday, the Coast RTA board tabled the ferry proposal Wednesday.

“The reason we did what we did,” Council Member Bob Anderson said, “was that some of us were not aware of the cost. Based on that, we needed some time to get perspective.”

Anderson said his first test of a spending proposal is to determine if it benefits everyone in the county. “If the answer to that is no,” he said, “whether I like the project or not, I vote no. That might be an extreme position, but I won’t sign off on helping part of the people with the public’s money. The only way to do something that benefits the public is to build a bridge.”

Anderson has proposed a bridge from Horry County to the north end of the island rather than operating a ferry.

Council Member Jerry Oakley said he might support the ferry plan, but he needs more information.

The Coast RTA board members decided Wednesday to try and bring all the interested parties together, including the Georgetown County School District which operates a school boat for children on the island.

“It makes no sense to run two boats,” said Gary Loftus, an Horry County Council member who serves on the Coast RTA board.

“For the people of Sandy Island to take $200,000 in capital outlay and $150,000 a year in operating costs and divide that by 80, that’s not cost-effective, even by government transportation standards. I don’t see this going anywhere.”

Coast RTA was seeking $175,000 for a 32-foot, handicapped-accessible pontoon boat. Rural Development officials had indicated strong interest in funding the project and indicated the typical 25 percent match requirement might be waived. There would be no financial impact on Coast RTA, according to the application.

S.C. Department of Transportation approved a grant last month for $75,000 to cover part of the maintenance and operating costs for the ferry service for fiscal year 2014.

“The local match will be met from a grant from Georgetown County,” the Coast RTA general manager, Myers Rollins Jr., wrote in an e-mail obtained by the Coastal Observer. “While Coast RTA will operate the ferry, we will not incur any operations or maintenance expenses.”

Plans were for Georgetown County to pick up yearly operations costs of $150,000 beginning in the second year of operation, according to the e-mail.

“We always expect the worst,” said Charles Pyatt, a Sandy Island resident.

He said he talked with County Council members after Tuesday’s meeting and agreed that it would cost more to operate a ferry long term than to build a bridge to the island at a narrow point.

“There’s no way,” Pyatt said, “they are going to do anything soon.”

He said residents of the island will be raising funds at Murrells Inlet’s Blessing of the Inlet May 4 to buy their own pontoon boat.

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