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Sandy Island: School boat makes first runs as passenger ferry

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Passenger ferry service to Sandy Island that was first proposed over six years ago following the death of three residents in a boating accident began over the weekend. It had 10 riders the first day.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Georgetown County School Superintendent Randy Dozier.

The service uses the state-owned school boat, which is operated by the county school district. Georgetown County obtained a state transportation grant to fund additional trips for residents. “It gets them out of those unsafe boats,” County Administrator Sel Hemingway said.

Three residents drowned when their boat sank while crossing the Waccamaw River to Sandy Island during a storm in February 2009. The school boat was used as a ferry in the weeks after the accident, but then-Gov. Mark Sanford vetoed a bill that would have made the arrangement permanent.

The county and the regional transit authority then looked at options for car ferries, but they were considered too expensive. Attention shifted to a passenger ferry this year when the state superintendent of education, Molly Spearman, pledged to replace the 50-year-old, steel-hulled school boat with a new vessel. A 26-foot pontoon boat with seating for 12 passengers began operation at the start of the school year.

The $80,000 state grant will pay for the operation of the New Prince Washington as a ferry. “These trips are going to be a lot less expensive than anybody thought,” Hemingway said.

The school boat will make two trips on weekdays in addition to its two runs with students: one around 7:30 a.m. and another around 4 p.m. On weekends, there are two trips: at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. The boat starts and ends each trip from the dock on Sandy Island.

Whether the boat will run on days when school isn’t in session, such as Thanksgiving and Friday, is up to the discretion of the captain, Timothy Tucker, Dozier said. “This is all kind of, sort of in its infancy,” he said.

The school has looked for a second licensed captain to help Tucker, but without success. “We’re lucky to have Mr. Tucker,” Dozier said. “It wouldn’t be happening without him.”

The service doesn’t have a ridership target, but Dozier said he was pleased with the early numbers. There were 15 passengers on Sunday. The first after-school run this week had six passengers. “Once the word gets out, it may grow,” he said.

Passengers have to sign a liability waiver and they have to be accompanied by an island resident, Hemingway said. Since Tucker is a resident, that’s not a bar to non-resident passengers. “It will quietly work itself out,” he said.

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