Proposed Sandy Island vehicle ferry to Georgetown gets extension

A vehicle ferry still may be possible for Sandy Island.

The board of Coast Regional Transportation Authority has given its general manager until June 1 to find an estimated $400,000 needed to bring a ferry to Georgetown and engineer the landings to accommodate the 60-foot vehicle ferry.

Coast RTA has worked "fairly exhaustively for a year and a half," to bring the Etowah County, Ala., ferry to Sandy Island, said Myers Rollins, the general manager of Coast RTA.

"Now we've a little bit more time to get some money together," Rollins said.

Last week, Rollins met with officials from Georgetown County and Sandy Island residents and recommended that Coast RTA "not further pursue the car ferry" due to the cost.

"The bottom line is ... those dollars are not there," Rollins said at that meeting.

Rollins said that he is not necessarily more optimistic this week about being able to find the funding for the ferry.

"My board and I are in agreement that improving mobility to and from Sandy Island is important. We are also keenly aware that during this period of economic uncertainty, locating dollars to fund new programs and services is increasingly difficult," he said.

But he said he "can commit that over the next two months we will make a 100 percent effort to secure funds that will improve the quality of life for seniors, and moms, and children and all residents on Sandy Island."

And Rollins may find help from South Carolina's legislators in Washington, D.C.

Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C, could work with Coast RTA to find funding.

Graham's spokesman, Kevin Bishop, said they are requesting more information from Coast RTA about the ferry to "see what, if any, federal assistance may be available."

Rep. Tim Scott's office did not return messages for comment.

Getting the ferry to Georgetown County from Etowah County, Ala., would cost between $48,000 and $55,000 depending on how it's moved.

Overhauling the docks on the mainland and island sides of the Waccamaw River to accommodate vehicles that drive off the ferry would cost between $300,000 and $340,000 and take at least a year, according to Coast RTA officials.

State legislators say they may also be able to help.

S.C. Rep. Carl Anderson said the local delegation is waiting to hear from the Georgetown County Council about the project.

"If they call upon us we will do all in our power to help them," said Anderson.

He said that he will do "all that I can to help," including checking with the South Carolina Department of Revenue and other agencies to see if they have any funding or grants available.

A public ferry for the island has been discussed for years, but those talks escalated after February 2009 when three people drowned when their boat capsized during a storm as they made their way back to the island one night.

S.C. Rep. Kevin Ryan said while something needs to be done to improve safe transportation for the residents of Sandy Island, he would not support the state footing the entire $400,000 bill for the ferry.

"I am opposed to spending $400,000 to relocate this particular vehicle ferry. I think it would be more reasonable to utilize a passenger ferry in conjunction with the Department of Education, improve the conditions of the landings, and promote boating and water safety," he said.

At the meeting last week members of the Sandy Island community said residents were strongly in favor of a vehicle ferry, rather than a passenger only ferry.

And a Coast RTA 2009 survey of island residents showed they prefer a car-and-passenger ferry.

More than half of the 61 people surveyed, 54 percent, said they would use a vehicle ferry daily if it was available. In that same survey, the top two criteria residents said were the important in choosing a ferry were "safe boat" and "can transport a car."

Rollins said he is scheduled to meet with Sandy Island residents on April 9 to hear their thoughts on the ferry.