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Sandy Island: School district will look at ferry option for students – again

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Including the Sandy Island school boat in plans for a passenger ferry to the island won’t raise any objections from Georgetown County school officials, as long as it doesn’t cost the school district more than it currently pays.

“We’re willing to help and do our part,” Superintendent Randy Dozier said. But he added, “it’s not our boat.”

The boat is owned by the state Department of Education. The school district pays for the operator and a vehicle to pick up students on the island, about $10,000 a year. The state pays about $15,000 a year to operate the boat, which makes a trip each way on school days.

Coast RTA wants to buy a 32-foot pontoon using a $175,000 federal grant. The agency’s board last week tabled a vote on the project in order to discuss a joint operation with the state-owned school boat. Georgetown County Council was asked to endorse the pontoon boat purchase, but deferred a vote because members said they want to find out what the project will cost.

Coast RTA has a $75,000 state grant to operate a passenger ferry for the first year. An e-mail from the agency director, Myers Rollins, says it will look for funds from Georgetown County and that “we will not incur any operations and maintenance expenses.”

Dozier said this week he hasn’t heard from anyone about a ferry service.

Following the death of three island residents who drowned in 2009 as they crossed the Waccamaw River during a storm, a bill was passed in the state legislature that allowed the school boat to be used as a ferry by island residents. It gave the school district the right to approve additional trips but required the district to pay any additional cost.

The bill also allowed the district to contract with a third party to run additional trips.

Dozier said replacing the current school boat, which dates to 1968, makes sense. “That’s only got so many trips left in it,” he said.

He has spoken with the state Department of Education in the past about a joint use but hasn’t met with much enthusiasm, he said.

“I’m sure the state would like to get out of the boat business,” Dozier said. “I just don’t want to get caught up with us paying the fee.”

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