Snow Hill Council Votes To Sell Riverboat

Snow Hill Council Votes To Sell Riverboat
The Black-Eyed Susan riverboat is pictured in Snow Hill at its berth. File photo by Charlene Sharpe

SNOW HILL – Officials agreed this week to start the process of disposing of the beleaguered Black-Eyed Susan.

The Snow Hill Town Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to authorize town staff to move forward with getting rid of the Black-Eyed Susan, the riverboat the town purchased in 2020.

“We need to start this process, as painful as it may be to some people,” Mayor Mike Pruitt said.

The Black-Eyed Susan, a 149-passenger riverboat, had a successful season running up and down the Pocomoke River in 2021. A mandatory inspection in Norfolk in 2022, however, revealed that the boat needed extensive repairs in order to resume regular cruises. The inspection revealed issues with the hull, hydraulics system and paddlewheel frame. Initial repair estimates exceeded $600,000. As a result, the boat spent this past summer docked in Snow Hill.

Snow Hill officials solicited public comment last month regarding the future of the boat. While few people weighed in, Pruitt shared what he’d learned about the town’s options after talking to a variety of captains and marine professionals. Most told him the town could expect annual maintenance costs of $100,000 even once the boat was repaired.

This week, Pruitt asked the council to make a decision regarding the future of the Black-Eyed Susan. He suggested officials authorize Town Manager Rick Pollitt to start planning on releasing the boat from the town’s ownership.

Councilmember Janet Simpson asked how that would be handled.

Pollitt said he’d first obtain an appraisal. When asked if the town meant to completely get out of the boat business, Pollitt reminded the council that the boat needed about half a million dollars in repairs and, based on Pruitt’s research, would cost $100,000 annually in regular maintenance.

A motion by Councilmember Regina Blake to start the process of removing the boat from the town’s ownership passed unanimously.

Pruitt said he trusted Pollitt to handle the process in the best interests of the town.

When a resident asked if there was any way the boat could still be used as the town explored how to best get rid of it, Pruitt said that would be up to Pollitt.

“I’m going to leave it at that and let Mr. Pollitt work his magic,” Pruitt said.

John Paffrath, who shared his interest in the boat with the council during last month’s public comment session, said the nonprofit he was involved with was still interested in the Black-Eyed Susan. He added that they’d done a walk-through of the boat last week.

“I can see where it needs some immediate attention,” he said.

Pruitt indicated that the town would be happy to consider a proposal from the nonprofit as it moved forward with getting rid of the riverboat.

“All options are on the table,” he said.

Snow Hill purchased the riverboat in 2020 after Tom Perlozzo, then the county’s director of recreation and parks, tourism and economic development, pushed the idea as a way to attract visitors to Snow Hill and Pocomoke. The town was able to purchase the boat with a $400,000 zero-interest loan from Worcester County. Despite a successful season in 2021 under the guidance of operator Jim Washington, officials learned of the array of repairs needed on the boat in the spring of 2022. Though docked on the river, the boat hasn’t been in operation since.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.