SNOW HILL – Snow Hill’s new riverboat could be docked in town by Valentine’s Day.
The Black-Eyed Susan, purchased by Snow Hill last month with a loan from Worcester County, is currently in Salisbury undergoing repairs. Town Manager Gary Weber said that while he hopes work will be done in time to offer a Valentine’s Day cruise, it should definitely be done by March.
“The boat is going to be perfect when it comes up the Pocomoke River,” he said.
Weber said the boat arrived at Murtech Marine in Salisbury after a three-day trip from Havre de Grace. While mostly uneventful, the boat did hold up the Route 50 bridge in Salisbury for 15 minutes.
“It had to come at an angle,” Weber said. “It did get hung up but somebody with the bridge threw them a line and straightened it and they got through.”
At Murtech, Weber said all the repairs noted in the survey reviewed prior to the boat’s purchase were being performed. Though those repairs were initially expected to cost a significant amount, he said the current estimate was about $68,000.
While the repairs are underway, a riverboat committee in Snow Hill is working on logistics. Committee members have compiled a list of licensed captains and are putting together a request for proposals seeking an operator for the boat.
“Our hope is to find an operator that will lease the boat from us,” Weber said.
He added, however, that COVID-19 might make some operators wary of expressing interest right now. If an operator isn’t identified, the town will run the boat.
“If we can’t find somebody we’re not letting the season go away,” Weber said, adding that the town could hire a cruise director. “We will operate it.”
Though there was initially talk of the City of Pocomoke partnering on the riverboat venture, Weber said the town’s council is not in agreement.
“The mayor, the town manager and I have been in communication,” he said. “They are fully on board. Their council is not in agreement. Until they can get into agreement, as far as them being partners financially we can’t depend on that.”
The boat is, however, still expected to travel to Pocomoke. Weber is envisioning a three-hour cruise from Snow Hill to Pocomoke, where visitors can visit the Delmarva Discovery Center and shop before taking a bus back to their starting point.
“People are very excited,” he said.
Weber said a preliminary profit-and-loss estimate showed if the boat began operations in February and ran only on Friday-Saturday-Sunday at 33% capacity it would have net profits of roughly $250,000.
“We’re in a very precarious time but we’re not concerned,” he said. “We know at one-third capacity we can make it successful.”
Weber added that he was grateful to the Worcester County Commissioners for providing the $400,000 no-interest 15-year loan that helped Snow Hill purchase the boat. He added that the county wasn’t really taking any risk because if the town didn’t come up with the roughly $26,000 annual payments on it the commissioners could take the money out of the county’s annual grant to Snow Hill. He added that the boat’s value would be greatly increased once its repairs were done.
“Once it’s finished we could probably sell it for $700,000,” he said. “They’re very few and far between.”
The commissioners voted 5-2 in October to approve providing Snow Hill with the funding to purchase the boat through a no-interest loan. At this week’s meeting, however, Commissioner Chip Bertino questioned a payment the county had issued for insurance related to the boat. Chief Administrative Officer Harold Higgins said the payment had come out of the $400,000 and that the county was simply overseeing the expenditure of the money.
“We felt we’d have better control over those bills if we processed them and controlled it so it didn’t exceed $400,000,” Higgins said.
When Commissioner Jim Bunting asked if the county was being reimbursed for its administrative costs, Higgins said it was not.
Bunting said he felt the county’s payment of bills for Snow Hill should have been discussed when the loan was approved.
“Now it seems like the county’s taking a hands-on approach to this boat,” he said. “I really think this should have been approved by the county commissioners.”