The formula for a regional ferry service encompassing the area between Savannah and Beaufort hasn't changed over the many years it has been contemplated.
A ferry service, even one run by a private entity, will require public money, land transportation and enough consumer demand to make it work.
If we're willing at the federal, state and local levels -- because that's probably what it will take -- to subsidize such a service, then let's look at it again. But if that support isn't likely, it's an academic exercise.
The Sea Island Ferry Task Force hosted a meeting this week on the topic. The task force is an offshoot of the Binyah Foundation, which was formed to promote tourism, development and culture on Daufuskie Island, a barrier island with no bridge.
It's not a new idea. In 2002, we saw a proposal to provide regional bus, ferry, rail and other transportation service between Hilton Head Island and Savannah and other points throughout Beaufort, Jasper, Hampton, Colleton and Allendale counties in South Carolina and Chatham, Effingham and Liberty counties in Georgia. It came to nothing.
In 2010, Beaufort County administrator Gary Kubic proposed studying a regional ferry service. The payback would be revitalizing development on Daufuskie Island, a barrier island with no bridge, and an enhanced county tax base.
We watch the county struggle almost annually to figure out ferry service between Daufuskie and Hilton Head Island. The latest contract proposal for service provided by a private ferry company would cost about $268,100 a year. To make it work, required service on Saturday was dropped to two weeks per month and times were adjusted to a later hour on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The county budgeted $150,000 for the ferry, but even with ticket sales, expects to have to come up with another $97,100.
The Daufuskie Island Council, which represents residents' interests on the island, hopes to hold a referendum asking voters to create a special tax district on the island to pay for ferry service. Josh Gruber, Beaufort County's attorney, has said signatures from at least 15 percent of registered voters within the special purpose district would be required to get the question on a ballot. With about 300 registered voters on the island, about 45 signatures are necessary. State law requires all ballot questions be finalized by no later than Aug. 15 for the Nov. 6 election.
The selling point would be that better service will have a positive impact on property values there. The group last year pushed for the Lowcountry Regional Transportation Authority to create a marine division and get involved in a regional ferry service. The authority is already set up to get federal, state and local funding, as well as revenue from riders. It also is already involved in ground transportation, a key component once the ferry docks.
There is no lack of ideas on this subject. Where we come up short is a viable financial plan.