SC

Beaufort County Government Puts Lowcountry Ferry On Notice

Does new leadership at the county level mean residents’ concerns are finally being heard?

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In response to citizen complaints dating back months, Beaufort County, South Carolina has issued a formal notice of noncompliance to Lowcountry Ferry regarding its contract to provide vital access to Daufuskie Island.

According to an announcement from Beaufort County administrator, Michael Moore – who started work July 1, 2024 – the notice of noncompliance was presented on Wednesday (July 3, 2024), nearly a week after residents reported a pontoon boat was slowly providing passage across the Calibogue Sound.

“The well-being and satisfaction of our residents remain our top priority and Beaufort County is taking steps to address the contract requirement to have a second qualified vessel available for ferry service,” Moore said. “Lowcountry Ferry is required to submit a plan for the County’s consideration in order to remedy the situation.”

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Lowcountry Ferry pontoon boat. (Provided)

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“Collaborative efforts are ongoing between Lowcountry Ferry and Beaufort County to ensure compliance with contractual obligations,” the statement added.

The failure of Lowcountry Ferry to honor the requirements of its contract has been an issue for months. 

Meanwhile, the company – operated by Neil Turner – has been the subject of numerous complaints since it took over the county-subsidized ferry service for Daufuskie Island in mid-January. Turner’s $365,000 annual bid to provide the ferry service was substantially lower than other competitors – whose bids came in at more than $1 million.

Since the contract began, though, Daufuskie Island residents have had complaints about accessibility for individuals with disabilities, appropriate cargo space, the safety of the vessel and the lack of a second vessel as required by the contract. 

FITSNews reached out to Turner for comment about the noncompliance notice but have yet to receive a response. Obviously in the event we receive a response, we will provide it to our audience.

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Manatee II (Provided)

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Daufuskie’s ferry is as essential as a bridge or highway – providing the only means of access for those who work or live on this 5,000-acre scenic island. While an estimated 200 residents rely on the ferry throughout the year, last summer’s tourist season delivered more than 70,000 visitors to the island.

The Manatee II, a former sightseeing boat from Florida, has been serving as the sole ferry since it arrived at Hilton Head Island earlier this year. However, the vessel recently required repairs that put it out of service and during that time Lowcountry Ferry used a pontoon boat as a substitute – to the chagrin of many passengers. 

According to Lowcountry Ferry invoices requested by FITSNews through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, Beaufort County has paid out $136,874.97 for the ferry service so far this year.

Passenger counts also obtained by FOIA indicate a drastic slowdown in traffic at the height of the tourism season. For example, the week of May 20, 2024 to May 27, 2024, the ferry provided rides for 1,314 residents and 1,020 visitors. During the week of May 28, 2024 to June 2, 2024, the ferry provided rides for only 145 residents and 133 visitors.  

The most recent week for which data was provided was June 17, 2024 to June 23, 2024 and during that time the ferry provided rides for 378 residents and 330 visitors. 

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Does the notice mean Beaufort County is finally getting serious about the concerns raised by Daufuskie residents?

“I just hope they follow through,” one source said in response to the “long-awaited” notice of noncompliance.  

Despite prevailing dissatisfaction with the ferry service, islanders realize the contract cannot be canceled before a new ferry service is available to take its place.

Count on FITSNews to continue to monitor this developing situation. Anyone with information or concerns about the Daufuskie Island ferry service is encouraged to reach out to callie@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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