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Sandy Island: County gets grant to operate school boat as ferry service

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

After years of delay and frustration, boat transportation for the public between Sandy Island and the mainland is becoming a reality.

Georgetown County Council accepted an $80,000 S.C. Department of Transportation grant under the Mass Transit Funds Program this week that will provide additional trips on the new school boat, New Prince Washington, for island residents and property owners without a fare.

County Administrator Sel Hemingway said island residents could be riding the boat within a month. “We’re close,” he said. “The money is there, and the permission is there. The pathway is now open for the local school district and the county to be able to arrange additional trips.”

Hemingway said the boat trips will be coordinated with the Coast RTA bus schedule so ground transportation will be available when island residents reach the mainland. The DOT project description says the county will work with other providers such as Assisted Rides, Neighbor-2-Neighbor and the Workforce Investment Board to meet residents’ needs.

The terms of the grant agreement require a combined match, or leverage, of $112,300 that would include the cost of personnel, operations and maintenance incurred by the schools and in-kind maintenance and improvements on the docks at the island and the mainland by the county.

Georgetown County School Superintendent Randy Dozier said he was grateful to state School Superintendent Molly Spearman for replacing the old boat, a steel-hulled vessel that went into service in 1968, that left students smelling of diesel fumes with a 26-foot pontoon boat that carries 12 passengers.

“I do think the need is there for additional trips,” he said, “and they are being put in place. I think it’s great the county has gotten the grant money.”

Dozier said the schools could get more value from a new boat by planning field trips or making an additional run for island students participating in extracurricular activities. The push for public boat transportation has been steady since three people, including a Waccamaw High School basketball player, drowned when a private motorboat capsized in rough waters as they returned home at night in February 2009. Dozier said extra boat trips would have to be approved by the school board.

“It would be to our benefit to run some extra trips,” Dozier said. “It’s hard to participate in activities and catch the boat.”

He said the cost of additional boat travel is nothing unlike what the schools do with buses. “We contribute for additional stops and hazards,” he said.

Charles Pyatt, a resident of Sandy Island who has lobbied for ferry service, said the boat will be a tremendous help for the people living there. “I’m looking more into how the times are going to be,” he said. “We’ve got some folks going to work early, so that would be a great help.”

The DOT grant is renewable year to year, Hemingway said. The money the schools spend on operations would provide most of the match that the grant requires.

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