Friday, April 12, 2024

UPDATE: Newly appointed Bald Head Island Transportation Authority set to meet for the first time

The Bald Head Island Transportation Authority is awaiting one more appointee to its board before commencing its public operations over the private Bald Head Island ferry system. (Port City Daily photo / COURTESY VILLAGE OF BALD HEAD ISLAND)
The Bald Head Island Transportation Authority is awaiting one more appointee to its board before commencing its public operations over the private Bald Head Island ferry system. (Port City Daily photo / COURTESY VILLAGE OF BALD HEAD ISLAND)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been updated to include statements by Rep. Kelly Hastings and Giles Perry

BALD HEAD ISLAND — The Bald Head Island Transportation Authority is one member and one month away from officially meeting as an authority.

On Dec. 14, the authority’s 11-member board, comprised of appointed officials from varying legislative organizations, is scheduled to meet for the first time.

Bald Head Island LLC, a private company, is set to hand over its operation of its ferry transportation system after 34 years of bringing passengers to and from Deep Point Marina in Southport.

In 2016, the ferry transported over 300,000 customers, a number that has grown in recent years.

From private to public

Senate Bill 391 was signed into law by the governor on Jul. 18, 2017; it called for the formation of the public authority. According to the Brunswick County Board of Commissioners, the purpose for the creation of the authority is to:

  • operate a reliable and safe ferry and barge transportation system
  • provide parking facilities for passengers on the mainland and tram service on the island
  • enhance the quality of life, mobility, and circumstances of the residents of the county
  • promote economic development and tourism throughout the region
  • protect and preserve the environment

Compared to the public ferry system half a mile down the road, pedestrian fare on the private ferry system is significantly more costly. Round trip fare from Fort Fisher to Southport, approximately 4 miles, is $1 for a pedestrian. In contrast, round trip fare from Southport to Bald Head Island, approximately 3 miles, is $22 for a pedestrian.

However, vessels for the private and public systems are vastly different. Bald Head Island does not permit public vehicle transportation; its ferry service is pedestrian-only. NCDOT’s Southport/Fort Fisher ferries have the capacity to carry 30-35 vehicles.

Now that transportation to and from Bald Head Island will be controlled by a public authority, there are no plans to change anything about the system’s operating services.

“The employees and who they are working for and under will be the only meaningful change at the very onset,” Village Manager Chris McCall said. “The revenue generated through the sales of tickets is what’s going to continue to pay the employees.”

As a separate entity from existing NCDOT ferry operations, the state is not obligated to contribute to the operation of the authority or of the ferry system.

“This isn’t an NCDOT thing at all,” said Tim Hass, an information officer for the Ferry Division of North Carolina’s Department of Transportation. “We have three people on the board. That’s pretty much the beginning and end of our involvement with the Bald Head Island ferry.

“If things don’t go as planned I’m sure that the general assembly will deal with it accordingly,” Hass said.

The current private ferry system will soon operate under the operation of the public authority. Chad Paul, CEO of Bald Head Island LLC, said that the ferry transportation system had not been profitable in a Village council meeting on Aug. 18.

“The ferry has lost money every single year since the last rate case,” Paul said. “Last year transportation lost $500,000.”

North Carolina House Representative Kelly Hastings worked with Senator Bill Rabon, the primary sponsor of Senate Bill 391 which created the Authority. Hastings enlisted Giles Perry, an attorney with the General Assembly, who also worked on the bill.

“The Authority is authorized to issue revenue bonds, funded from revenues produced by its operations,” Perry wrote in a statement. “The law provides that ‘the principal of and interest on the bond is payable solely from the revenues pledged to its payment and neither the State nor the municipality is obligated to pay the principal or interest, except from such revenues.'”

Considering the private ferry operations are and have been in a deficit according to Paul, it is unclear what entity would step in if the Authority does not generate a profit in continuing business as usual.

“It is unknown how the General Assembly would react in the actual event of a default or threatened default by the Authority,” Perry wrote.

Senator Rabon did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The new Authority 

Board appointees so far include:

  • Brunswick County appointed Richard Kopp
  • Southport appointed Alderman Jim Powell
  • Bald Head Island Mayor Andy Sayre and Mayor Pro Tem Kit Adcock were automatically appointed.
  • North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) appointed Jedd Dixon, Landin Zimmer and Rex Cowdry
  • Governor Roy Cooper appointed Susan Rabon
  • Speaker of the NC House of Representatives appointed Bradford T. Smith
  • President pro-tem of the NC Senate appointed David W. Jessen

The remaining seat yet to be filled will be a full-time, property-owning resident of Bald Head Island. Village council members will review applicants, and select the last appointee during their Dec. 13 meeting.

“Once all eleven board members have been appointed an organizational meeting will be held to elect officers and conduct business,” said Joyce Fulton, director of communications for Bald Head Island LLC.

“We do not expect that there will be any changes from current schedules or operations during the 2018 season,” Fulton said.

The town manager echoed Fulton’s comments, saying travelers should not notice any changes after the Authority commences.

“As far as what to expect, it’s still early in the process,” said McCall.

“Users of the services may likely not see any real change early on but over time there obviously may be some things that may be changed in looking to improve the system.”

Senate Bill 391 by Johanna Ferebee on Scribd


Johanna Ferebee can be reached at johanna@localvoicemedia.com or @j__ferebee on Twitter

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