BEAUFORT — The National Park Service has awarded Island Express Ferry Service of 412 Front St. in Beaufort the contract to provide passenger ferry service to all of Shackleford Banks and the Cape Lookout area of South Core Banks, starting in 2014.
The ferries will depart from Beaufort and the Cape Lookout Visitor Center in Harkers Island.
Cape Lookout Superintendent Pat Kenney said the NPS is very pleased to award Island Express Ferry Service the contract.
“We are looking forward to a long-term productive relationship for providing exemplary service to park visitors,” he said.
Local ferry operators, however, have said during public meetings on the NPS’s plans for the cape’s ferry service that they’re worried about how this change will impact their business; with one business holding a contract, only it will have the right to take passengers to and from the cape.
Captain George Aswad, managing owner of the Island Express Ferry Service, said they are very excited to be awarded the ferry contract.
“We are looking forward to providing park visitors with great service while facilitating visitor understanding and appreciation for the park,” he said. Island Express Ferry Service is a Beaufort-based company that has many years of experience in operating ferries and marine tours.
Meanwhile, Annette Mitchum, manager of Davis Shore Ferry Service in Davis, said the ferry operators knew this was coming.
“I hate it for the small ferries,” she said, “It’s basically putting them out of business. They say it’s to provide a better service, but it’s about control. NPS is getting a bigger piece of the pie.”
Mrs. Mitchum said that since her own service moves vehicles as well as passengers, it won’t be affected as much, because the NPS’s contracted service only moves passengers. However, she said this could change.
Ligh Ann Byrum, co-manager of Island Ferry Adventures in Beaufort, said she too thinks this is going to hurt a lot of the local ferries.
“I don’t think this consolidation is a good idea,” she said. “A lot of people are being put out of business and they won’t be able to take as many people over with one service as with all of them operating.”
Ms. Byrum said she hopes her own business will be open next year, but not being able to take people to Shackleford Banks, one of the cape’s main attractions, is going to hurt.
“We may run tours to some of the other barrier islands,” she said.
The NPS said in a press release it would like to especially acknowledge its partnership with Beaufort for providing the Beaufort Ferry Gateway; the gateway will be at the Beaufort Town Hall on Front Street.
Charlie Burgess, town manager, said the town staff is looking forward to having the NPS in town.
“The ferries departing from Beaufort will provide long-term economic benefits to the town,” he said. The gateway will include a visitor information center in the Beaufort Town Hall with exhibits about the park. The NPS said it will also provide restrooms, accessible docks, outdoor exhibits and flexible parking arrangements for ferry passengers.
At the Harkers Island Visitor Center, the NPS is making progress on facility improvements. These facilities include: accessible docks, a shade shelter, outdoor exhibits on the park and a ferry ticket booth. Future planned improvements include increased parking and improved connections to the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center and the park’s picnic area.
Bill Rogerson, board chairman of the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center, said having the ferries departing from Shell Point, in close proximity to the museum, will bring additional visitors to the museum which will significantly enhance its ability to share the heritage of the Down East communities.
The NPS requested proposals for the ferry service contract in February and bids for the contract were evaluated by an independent panel during July. This panel determined that Island Express had the best overall proposal. The panel’s recommendation for award of the contract was approved by NPS Southeast Regional Director Stan Austin on Sept. 30.
The NPS said the purpose of managing ferry service through a contract is to insure long-term continuity of the ferry service, a consistently high level of services that are specified and reviewed by the NPS and to help visitors understand the significances of the park. Its decisions for managing ferry service, choosing a Ferry Gateway Departure Site, partnering with the Beaufort, and for establishing a service level for the ferry, were part of a series of planning efforts that provided multiple opportunities for public input since 2007.
Contact Mike Shutak at 252-726-7081 ext. 206, email email@example.com; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.