Beaufort News

Proposed hike in Daufuskie Island ferry fees concern firefighters

Haig Point, a private development on Daufuskie Island that has long provided free or reduced-cost ferry service to firefighters, EMS personnel and other Beaufort County officials, has stoked tension on the island by seeking more money for those boat trips.

The county pays $5,000 a year for unlimited access to the development's fleet, which makes 18 daily runs between Daufuskie and nearby Hilton Head Island. Citing rising fuel costs, Haig Point has requested the county increase that annual payment to $25,000, said Randall Page, the development's general manager and chief operating officer.

Page said the county uses Haig Point's boats to evacuate sick residents and transport building inspectors, council members and others to Daufuskie, which is accessible only by water.

The development also has requested the Daufuskie Island Fire District -- which receives free, unlimited access -- pay $10,000 to $15,000 a year.

Page said Haig Point is happy to help the county and district -- in part because they help encourage construction in the development. The development has probably been undercharging the county for years, however, and now must compensate for rapidly escalating cost of the diesel fuel, he said.

Haig Point, which spends about $2.2 million per year to provide water transportation for members and guests, budgeted for an increase in fuel costs but didn't expect prices to rise so fast and will probably spend $60,000 more for fuel than it budgeted for the year, he said.

Page figures the county, which accounts for 800 to 900 trips a year, would owe about $25,000 if it were charged as a contractor. Contractors pay $25 per trip now, and that will likely increase soon, he said.

He figures the fire district, which accounts for about 1,000 trips a year, would owe less if it were charged a "member rate."

"We're just wanting everybody to pay their fair share," Page said.

Beaufort County officials likely will consider the funding increase in upcoming budget deliberations, community services director Morris Campbell said. Asked whether the county should pay more for access to Haig Point’s boats, Campbell deferred to county administrator Gary Kubic and County Council Chairman Weston Newton.

Kubic could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon. Newton, an attorney who has represented a Haig Point property association, said he thought the issue would be addressed by county staff and that he would likely recuse himself if it comes before council.

The request for more money has upset some officials at the fire district.

The request for more money has upset some officials at the fire district.

Mike Bryant, a Haig Point resident and member of the fire district's board of commissioners, doesn't think it's right for the development to charge the firefighters who protect it and enable people to live there.

He said the request could create "a lot of ill will" on Daufuskie.

"I just don't think now is the time to start nickel-and-diming the island," said Bryant, who also owns property on Daufuskie outside Haig Point.

Because only one of the district's 11 paid firefighters lives on Daufuskie, the rest rely on Haig Point's boats to get to work, said Chuck Henry, a Haig Point resident and chairman of the district's board.

Haig Point's boats are rarely full, Henry said, so the district's firefighters don't cost the development much money.

"Their out-of-pocket expense for a few people riding the boat is no big deal," said Henry, also a volunteer firefighter for the district.

The presence of the district's firefighters, who are in uniform when aboard the boats, helps Haig Point sell real estate by reassuring prospective buyers their investment will be safe, he said.

Fire district officials want Haig Point to maintain the status quo. They say the district's cadre of about 16 volunteers often responds to calls, many of which emanate from Haig Point, without compensation. The district also regularly performs public service, such as appearing at kids' camps in Haig Point, they say.

If the district is forced to pay, it would likely need to raise taxes, a burden that would fall largely on residents of Haig Point because the development includes much of the island's most valuable property, they say.

"We're just hoping the goodwill will continue on," district chief Eddie Boys said.