A Coast RTA ferry service on Sandy Island not likely, officials say

akelley@thesunnews.comMay 17, 2014 

Sandy Island residents gather on a deck in front of Pyatt’s General Store to meet with Coast RTA officials for an update on attempts to launch a ferry service on May 17.

BY AMANDA KELLEY — akelley@thesunnews.com

  • Five-year timeline of events regarding the Sandy Island ferry

    February 2009 | Three Sandy Island residents drown while boating back to the island during a storm.

    July 2009 | The South Carolina General Assembly gives the OK to allow residents to travel on the Prince Washington, the state-owned school boat that transports students to and from the island during the school year.

    Early 2010 | A needs assessment survey is completed. Results showed 15 percent of residents did not have a family boat; 54 percent said they would use the ferry daily.

    February 2010 | Then-Coast RTA General Manager Myers Rollins deemed ferry project “high priority” for Coast.

    December 2010 | S.C. Department of Transportation awards Coast RTA a $600,000, 90-foot ferry. Coast was also given $148,000 in federal funds to operate the boat in its first year, with Coast required to match funds. Estimated $400,000 to bring the ferry from Alabama to Sandy Island.

    April 2011 | A group called the Sandy Island Ferry Project begins to try to raise $40,000 to pitch in to bring the ferry to the island.

    June 2011 | Coast RTA board turned down the ferry for several reasons including: The $400,000 cost to bring the ferry to the island; the ferry was not certified by the U.S. Coast Guard to operate in Alabama, and would therefore be a risk getting it certified in South Carolina.

    March 2013 | Legislators in the S.C. House approved a resolution urging the federal Department of Transportation to speed along efforts for a ferry to Sandy Island.

    Jay Rodriguez, jrodriguez@thesunnews.com

— A ferry service to Sandy Island in Georgetown County is not likely unless local authorities help fund it, according to Coast RTA officials who met with the island’s residents Saturday.

“The truth is we are still working on it,” said Felicia Beaty, with the Coast. “I cannot tell you it will be successful.”

Two dozen of the island’s approximately 100 residents came to a deck in front of Pyatt’s General Store Saturday afternoon to hear an update on the ferry project. They said the news from the area’s only public transit service wasn’t expected.

“We had our hopes built up today, the community of Sandy Island. We was expecting good news,” said island resident Rev. George Weathers. “The way I’m looking at it now we are back to square one ... and it don’t look good for the ferry service to Sandy Island.”

Beaty outlined a history of Coast RTA’s attempts to solve the decades-long transportation problem the residents of the island have: many must travel nearly a mile to the mainland for work or school, groceries and doctor’s appointments.

Interest in a ferry service was renewed in 2009 when three people died during a storm on the way home to the island.

Past efforts by Coast, which included plans to acquire the Hokes Bluff Ferry from Alabama, ended when the bus service wasn’t able to match grant monies.

Currently, Beaty said Coast needs $60,000 to match a grant for a 35-foot, 26-passenger pontoon boat that meets standards for the Americans with Disabilities Act.

She told residents Saturday that if funding for the pontoon boat isn’t secured, “it will probably be the end of (Coast’s) journey.”

Sarah Deas, who at 71 is retired, said she is disappointed that there wasn’t good news at the meeting, but said she still has hope.

“Getting in and out of those small boats is kind of getting to me,” she said. “A ferry would be good for me and my momma who is almost 100 years old. My brother is handicapped and he has a time getting in that boat. It would be very convenient for all of us.”

Deas, who spent her whole life on the island, said she makes the trip about three times a week.

Often, transport falls on Charles Pyatt, who has a pontoon that seats about 16 people. Retired from the army and the United States Postal Service, he said he doesn’t charge his elderly neighbors who need help getting to the mainland for doctor’s appointments.

“We’re still hoping and praying we can get something better,” Pyatt said. “We could even work with an 18-passenger boat. Something needs to happen.”

Beaty said Coast plans to evaluate information residents provided in a survey Saturday and approach Georgetown County Council about funds to match the grant with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the pontoon boat.

Contact AMANDA KELLEY at 626-0381 or on Twitter @TSN_AKelley.

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