Sandy Island students take boat to school, community argues vessel unsafe

GEORGETOWN COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - The Prince Washington has seen better days.

The Sandy Island school boat is the only mode of transportation for area students to and from school. For years, the vessel also transported the island's senior citizens.

"The boat is old," said longtime resident Charles Pyatt.

In the late 1970's, Pyatt took the near 10-minute ride to school on the Prince Washington every day.

Now 50 years later, he has four grandchildren riding the same boat to school.

"It's a health issue," he said.

Residents complain the boat carries a strong smell of diesel fuel.  They say it's also without heat and is not handicap accessible.

Rev. George Weathers, a retired pastor on the Island, said seniors once had access to the Prince Washington too.

Now, he says many aren't able to ride it due to safety concerns.

"The community is concerned."

On Friday, the Sandy Island community gained the ear of State Superintendent Molly Spearman.

Spearman met with school and community leaders at Waccamaw Middle School to talk solutions to the near-fifty year problem.

"It's a top priority for us at the department of education," she said.

After nearly an hour of brainstorming at Waccamaw Middle School, Spearman rode the Prince Washington for herself.

Moving forward, she listed two options to replace the vessel, a decision she says she's ready to make in the next few weeks.

One would involve a joint partnership between the school district, county council, and The State Department of Transportation (SCDOT).

Together, they would fund a leased boat, making routes for both students and community members.

She said the other option being discussed would have the State Board of Education purchasing a new boat, one that is also handicap accessible with priority going to students and seniors.

"We want to make sure whatever we decide will work for a long time in this community."

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