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Local ferries back in business

WINDSOR – Those looking for a scenic shortcut between NC 308 (Cooper Hill Road) and US 13/17 can once again take a boat ride across the Cashie River while sitting inside their vehicle.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation announced this week that the Sans Souci Ferry in Bertie County would return to service on Saturday, Aug. 22. In a follow-up, NCDOT officials said that Parker’s Ferry, which shuttles vehicles across the Meherrin River in Hertford County, would hopefully resume operations late next month.

Both ferries suspended service in June due to COVID-19 related budget issues, according to the NCDOT.

N.C. Department of Transportation employees will be temporarily staffing the San Souci Ferry until a contract to operate it can be awarded to a private contractor within the next few weeks.

“We are extremely pleased to be returning the Sans Souci ferry to service,” said NCDOT Division One Engineer Sterling Baker. “We know it’s very important to the people of Bertie County, both as a form of transportation and a part of local history.”

Meanwhile, an effort is underway to return the Parker’s Ferry vessel back to its homeport on the Meherrin River.

“Once back, we will have to reassemble certain portions to resume service there,” stated Tim Hass, Communications Officer for NCDOT Division One. “We hope to have Parker’s Ferry in service by the end of September.”

The operational contracts paid by NCDOT for both ferries were canceled effective June 13. However, Parker’s Ferry has been out of service since November of 2018 at which time it was towed to the NCDOT Ferry Division Shipyard at Manns Harbor for a scheduled $125,000 overhaul.

In a story published by this newspaper earlier this year, Hass said major delays caused by NCDOT having to reprioritize its list of projects have prevented the Parker’s Ferry vessel returning to Hertford County. That was followed by the announcement that the contracts for the operation of both ferries would be canceled in June.

“Along with Sans Souci, we are advertising for a contractor at Parker’s as well,” Hass added in an email sent this week. “At the current time, it is the intent for both to remain operational. However, as with all NCDOT operations, everything is contingent upon funding.”

The previous contracts for the operation of both ferries were with Hunt’s Enterprises of Ahoskie. Those contracts were worth $64,374.96 annually for each ferry.

NCDOT additionally pays, on average, approximately $20,000 per vessel to cover the annual costs of maintenance, fuel, etc., according to Hass.

The San Souci Ferry had its scheduled overhaul two years ago.

Upon notification by NCDOT in April of its intention to cancel the contracts, commissioners in both counties lobbied for the ferries to continue to operate.

The Hertford County Board of Commissioners, at its April 20 meeting, approved a resolution that formally requested NCDOT find the funds necessary to maintain the ferry’s operations.

In that resolution, the commissioners said the continued operation of Parker’s Ferry is beneficial locally and in the region, and that the loss of operational funds will have an adverse effect on the local economy beyond the impact left in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As to the latter issue, the commissioners pointed to the loss of local jobs and income, specifically for Hunt’s Enterprises.

At their May 4 meeting, the Bertie County Board of Commissioners discussed possible ways to keep San Souci Ferry open, to include grants. They too approved a resolution that encouraged the state to find the funding needed to maintain the operation of Sans Souci Ferry.

Rep. Howard Hunter III of Ahoskie worked from the outset of the April’s announcement to get both ferries back up and running.

“I first attempted it through special legislation, but what finally worked was me sending a letter to the Speaker of the House (Tim Moore) and he supported it,” Hunter said on Friday. “He sent it up the chain to NCDOT and the Board of Transportation approved the funding.

“I’m just happy to see both ferries back in operation. They hold so much history and have a special place in the hearts of our citizens,” Hunter added.

Additionally there were several Letters to the Editor published the R-C News-Herald from local citizens who encouraged local and state leaders to find the funds necessary to keep these treasured landmarks in service.

Unlike the larger boats of the state’s coastal ferry system, cable ferries carry a maximum of two vehicles and are guided across a river by cables connected to both shores.

Neither ferry charges a fee.

For real-time travel information, visit DriveNC.gov or follow NCDOT on social media.

 

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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