Back in September of 2020, in this space the headline read, “County’s Riverboat Purchase A Risky Venture.” The County Commissioners had just voted 5-2 to sign off on the purchase of a riverboat from across the state to boost south end tourism. The editorial read, “Though we don’t understand the rush to a decision, the goal is honorable. It’s going to take something bold to turn around tourism in the south-end of the county. The Pocomoke River is clearly the jewel of the region and highlighting its uniqueness is a smart course of action.”
The commissioners at the time agreed to loan Snow Hill $400,000 for the riverboat purchase with county backing. Three years later, it turns out the town bought a lemon and did not do its due diligence on this vessel. After a year of maintenance work and a few runs on the river, it was learned the boat needed about $500,000 in repairs to pass Coast Guard inspection, dooming the economic development effort for the county seat.
Back in 2020, the county was quick to make this purchase with ARPA funds in the name of economic development. The problem is the county did not investigate why another government dropped out at the last minute of the boat purchase. It was obvious the government officials on the western shore learned about the boat’s mechanical issues and walked away from the buy. Worcester County jumped in and then agreed to buy the boat.
This week the riverboat saga came to a sad end with Snow Hill having to sell the boat for $24,800 to a Taylor’s Island marina after the previous high bid of $75,000 fell through when the company realized making the boat an entertainment venue came with far too many expenses and unknowns.
Ever since taking office, Snow Hill Mayor Mike Pruitt has been transparent about his desire with the boat. Pruitt concluded the boat was too expensive for the town through his own research, learning annual repairs to the boat once the heavy inspection repairs were made were estimated at $100,000. Back in January, when the Snow Hill Town Council voted unanimously to move ahead with getting rid of the boat, Pruitt said, “We need to start this process, as painful as it may be to some people.”
It’s challenging to admit a mistake especially one as high-profile as this riverboat purchase. Once it was realized the boat would be a recurring drain on the town’s finances, Snow Hill was wise to move on. Having to accept the lower bid of $24,800 over the high bid of $75,000 put a disappointing bow on this humbling ordeal. The riverboat buy goes down as the most embarrassing decision in recent county history.