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March 29 2002

New ferries soon for Savannah?

The Savannah Morning News reported yesterday that officials are moving forward with plans for two new $1 million passenger boats to improve the connection between Savannah and the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center, Hutchinson Island.New Hutchison Island ferry

Currently in final design stages, the matching 100-passenger ferries would replace the Juliette Gordon Low, the 149-seat ferry that has been making the roughly two-minute trip since September. Officials said the authority would continue contracting with the private Savannah Riverboat Co. to lease and operate the boat until the new vessels arrive about a year from now.

Chatham Area Transit would own the ferries, which would be 80 percent funded with federal grant money. Another 10 percent would come from the Trade Center Authority, with the final 10 percent chipped in by the state.

The authority approved preliminary design plans for the new boats in February. The CAT board, which is in charge of administering the federal funds, gave its approval earlier this month.

The newspaper says some board members questioned the $291,000 cost associated with designing the custom-made boats.

"Do you not think there are boats out there that can be utilized?" quotes Dean Kicklighter, as asking. He was one of three members to vote against authorizing IBJ Associates of Shelter Island Heights, N.Y., to proceed to final design.

But, says the newspaper, transit and trade center officials say the boats have to be specially designed to withstand strong currents and maneuver docking areas.

"We're looking long-term here, trying to get the right boat that we can use for many, many years," CAT Executive Director Scott Lansing said. "When we put someone in one of those boats, we're taking their life in our hands. We don't want anybody to get wet. We're spending the money to make sure we don't have any incidents."

Transit officials hope the new system will feed into a much larger transportation network. They are studying the possibility of starting a ferry service to South Carolina.

While the Trade Center Authority loses about $250,000 a year on the ferry system, officials are hopeful about breaking even on the venture in the coming years.

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