Sandy Island students will snag a new ride to and from school after years of debate over the safety of a 50-year-old school boat.
The “New Prince Washington,” purchased by the S.C. Department of Education, is expected to be in use by the time school starts on Aug. 20, Georgetown County School District Superintendent Randy Dozier said.
The island, a 12,000-acre tract in Georgetown County, is accessible only by boat and is home to about 30 families. About 10 children currently board the boat for their daily trip to the mainland schools.
“The old boat had been in service for a long time and certainly it’s done its job,” Dozier said. “I would say it’s still safe, but the newer boat is a little safer, a little faster.”
The pontoon boat arrived at Hazzard Marina in Georgetown on Saturday, Dozier said, and must go through several Coast Guard inspections before it will be certified as safe to travel the mile to and from Sandy Island.
The new boat – which was custom built for Sandy Island – features six seating benches, new life jackets, several heaters, an elevated captain’s seat, an emergency exit and a 90-horsepower outboard Suzuki engine. The vessel also boasts a feature the former “Prince Washington” couldn’t; handicap access.
“It has all the things we were looking for,” Dozier said. “And the handicap access is certainly important.”
The “New Prince Washington” travels a little faster than the former ferry and the outboard engine keeps diesel fumes from traveling into the cabin, unlike the former boat, Dozier said.
Earlier this year activists gathered on the former “Prince Washington” to press the state for a new boat. The meeting, organized by members of the Sandy Island community and Georgetown County NAACP, allowed officials to express their concerns over students riding in the decades-old pontoon.
Activists said the old boat endangers children because of its age and production of diesel fumes. Parents complained to Morris Johnson, president of the Georgetown County NAACP, that their children smell of diesel every day after riding the boat.
The school district did not pay for the boat – the state owns the new and old ferry – but Georgetown County Schools provides the salary and benefits to the boat’s pilot. Information on what the Department of Education paid for the new boat was not available Wednesday.
The old boat is currently out of service and Georgetown County has no interest in purchasing it, said Jackie Broach, public information officer with the county. However, the county is in discussions with the school district to potentially use the new ferry for members of the public, she said.
“When it’s just sitting at the dock there’s a potential that it could be utilized for members of the general public,” Broach said. “We just don’t know what that use is, or the extent of that use, at this time.”
Broach said the county hopes some sort of resolution between the Department of Education, Georgetown County Schools and the county government will be made soon.
The district has been in discussion with the state education department for a new ferry for about 10 years, Dozier said.
“We’re excited to have a new boat – it’s been a long time coming,” Dozier said. “I think the kids and community will be excited about it.”
Claire Byun: 626-0381, @Claire_TSN