SC

Lowcountry Ferry Owner’s Court Appearance Scheduled

The case is on the June 25, 2024 docket for Bluffton Magistrate Court.

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A watercraft violation filed against the owner of a South Carolina ferry service has escalated concerns among residents of Daufuskie Island, S.C. These residents are raising alarms about the safety of the ferry operation – which provides essential transportation to and from their island homes. 

Neil Turner – the owner of South Carolina-based Lowcountry Ferry – was cited for allegedly failing to report a May 29, 2024 watercraft accident involving jet skis rented from another one of his businesses, Sea Monkeys Watersports of Hilton Head, S.C. The accident resulted in injuries to a minor who was reportedly transferred to an area hospital.

Officials learned of the incident on June 4, 2024 when an individual contacted the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) – prompting an investigation by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR).  The state agency charged Turner on June 7, 2024, according to court records, and he is scheduled to appear in court later this month.

If found guilty, the violation carries with it “a fine of $100-$500 and suspension of boating privileges for a year,” according to SCDNR public information officer Greg Lucas.

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FITSNews contacted Turner to provide him an opportunity to share his perspective, but he has yet to respond.  Should that change, we will be sure to notify our audience.

Lowcountry Ferry was awarded a contract from Beaufort County to provide essential transportation services to and from Daufuskie beginning mid-January 2024. The county-subsidized ferry service is a vital part of the island’s infrastructure as there is no road to Daufuskie. It is accessible only by water.

As we previously reported, the controversial bid submitted by Turner’s company was substantially lower than that of the former provider – and included a questionable land deal. In exchange for the lower contract amount of $365,000 – or about one-third of competitors’ $1 million bids – the county agreed to grant a portion of Jenkins Road to Turner. 

The Lowcountry Ferry bid was signed and submitted to the county on October 20, 2023 – the same day the business filed with the S.C. Secretary of State (SCSOS). At the time, Lowcountry Ferry had plans to purchase two vessels to fulfill the terms of the contract if their bid was successful.

Daufuskie Islanders protesting the contract say Turner had no prior experience running a ferry service. They also claim the USCG certification for the vessel currently in use – the Manatee II – pre-dates its use as a ferry. The vessel was previously used as a sightseeing tour boat in Florida.

Now, Lowcountry Ferry is among ten vendors pursuing a county contract to provide Daufuskie Island with emergency medical transport – a 24-hour, year-round contract. The bidding process is underway and the current contract expires in May 2025. 

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RELATED | A STORM OF CONTROVERSY

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A number of ferry-related injuries have been reported already this year, including one in which a man fell overboard and had to be pulled some distance through frigid waters before he could be rescued.

Objectors also point to a fatal accident in 2019 involving a watercraft rented from Sea Monkeys Watersports.

On July 30, 2019, 20-year-old Ciara Eiriz died as the result of an accident involving jet skis rented from Sea Monkeys Watersports. A 19-year-old man was charged with reckless operation as a result of the accident.

The new ferry service is being blamed in part for the current season’s drastic decrease in visitor traffic to Daufuskie Island. It is a scenario familiar to lot owners at the Hilton Head Harbor RV Resort who say they have lost money due to Turner’s mismanagement. The resort has 200 owners – including some who rent their spaces. As the owner of the rental office, Turner is responsible for marketing and renting lots. In turn, he receives 50 percent of the rental revenues. 

“Despite a post-COVID surge in the camping industry, the resort is suffering drastic losses,” one source told FITSNews.  

RV lot owners say Turner’s adoption of outdated, restrictive policies is resulting in many renters being turned away – sometimes after traveling hundreds of miles to their vacation destination. Look for more on the problems facing the resort owners in a future report. 

As a result, both Hilton Head Resort owners and Daufuskie Islanders are joining forces and urging county officials to take action. FITSNews is closely following these developments, particularly the upcoming court date and the ongoing EMS transport contract bid, and will bring you the latest.

Anyone with concerns or information is encouraged to reach out to FITSNews by emailing research@fitsnews.com.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Callie Lyons (provided)

Callie Lyons is a journalist, researcher and author. Her 2007 book ‘Stain-Resistant, Nonstick, Waterproof and Lethal’ was the first to cover forever chemicals and their impact on communities – a story later told in the movie ‘Dark Waters’. Her investigative work has been featured in media outlets, publications, and documentaries all over the world. Lyons also appears in ‘Citizen Sleuth’ – a 2023 documentary exploring the genre of true crime.

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