Beaufort County will continue to provide public ferry service for Daufuskie Island residents for another year with the current provider, but officials and the ferry owner are still at odds over morning departure times and long-term parking.
Wick Scurry, who owns J&W Corp., said he wants to change his departure time from Broad Creek Marina from 7:15 a.m. to 9 a.m., which is more convenient for tourists.
"It's $250 an hour for me to run a boat like that," he said. "The bottom line is, I run a tourism company."
Scurry said he carries an average of three or four passengers at the 7:15 a.m. departure time, but hopes to transport 30 to 50 at a 9 a.m. start.The later departure means island residents wouldn't get to the mainland until at least 11 a.m., according to county director of community services Morris Campbell. That would inconvenience islanders who work on the mainland.
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The county isn't legally obligated to provide water transportation to Daufuskie, but the County Council prefers to offer it, Campbell said.
"This is one of the services that the county has selected to provide," Campbell said. "We'd like to minimize the amount of dollars it takes to operate the service, but we also understand we're impacting employment in that sense."
In 2011, the county spent about $322,000 on ferry service, but even with an additional $50,000 grant from the S.C. Department of Transportation, it still lost about $24,428 on the service, according to county budget documents.
Scurry said he'd "be delighted" if the county could find a cheaper service for residents so he could focus solely on tourism.
"There's some real heavy funding needed," Scurry said. "They've either got to charge a ton of money (for tickets) or find funding from somewhere other than taxpayers of Beaufort County."
Island residents pay $4 per trip, and the county reimburses Scurry $13.50 each way, per Daufuskie resident. Campbell said he expects about 7,000 residents to ride the ferry next year.
Visitors pay $28 for a round-trip ticket, but the county doesn't reimburse him for those trips because they're part of Scurry's tourism business.
The renewed J&W contract would no longer reserve long-term parking spaces at Broad Creek Marina, Scurry said, because of higher demand for the spaces. Scurry said he is now leasing about half the amount of long-term space than he used to from a private landowner.
The decrease in the amount of rented space and the traffic the new Broad Creek Marina zip line will bring put parking at a premium, Scurry said.
Scurry provided about 30 long-term spaces in the past and charged island residents a parking fee, Campbell said. In the future, the county is likely to negotiate directly with the owner to reserve the parking spots and charge residents or long-term vacationers the fees.
The County Council has until June 30 to renew its contract with J&W Corp., Campbell said.