The Snow Hill Town Council voted Tuesday night to commit to partial repairs of their stern-wheel paddleboat, the Black-Eyed Susan (BES), to continue the boat as a tourist attraction and economic driver for the Lower Eastern Shore. The motion passed by a vote of two to one. The Town purchased the BES in 2020 with a combination of grant and loan funds from Worcester County and the State of Maryland. It began its initial voyages in August 2021 with Washington’s, Inc. as the operator, providing catered cruises along the scenic Pocomoke River.
As it happened, the BES was acquired in year four of a five-year mandated U.S. Coast Guard inspection routine. Accordingly, the BES was taken to Colonna’s Shipyard in Norfolk, Virginia, in February where it underwent an extensive inspection by the U.S. Coast Guard. The thorough inspection revealed multiple issues with the hull, hydraulics system, and paddlewheel frame to the tune of an estimated $604,000 repair estimate, a cost beyond the means of the Town’s budget.
Since being informed of the final inspection results in late March, the Town has reached out to numerous potential county, state, and federal funding sources for help. While no immediate funding was available to assist, the Town was encouraged that help may be available through usual granting channels. At the request of the Town, the U.S. Coast Guard also provided a condensed scope of work to use the BES as a floating, docked venue without the river cruises, at a cost of over $300,000.
The Town consulted with legal counsel to determine its obligations should they abandon the BES and attempt to sell it on the open market. That option also proved to be expensive with varying degrees of loan and grant obligations to the participating parties and lingering after-effects regarding future grant opportunities. During this time, Washington’s Inc was released from the lease agreement, given the BES is not currently sea-worthy, a condition of the contract. One person was heard to observe, “we can’t afford to keep it and we can’t afford to sell it!”
The Mayor and Town Council held a special session on the BES and provided other opportunities at regularly scheduled meetings for the community to provide input. While support was mixed, Mayor Dr. Jennifer Jewell remarked that she is grateful for the input as it helped shape the questions and issues the Mayor and Council needed to address.
Ultimately, a majority of the Town Council voted in favor of the limited repairs that would keep the BES in service, albeit in a reduced capacity, while efforts are made to fund a full restoration in hopes that the vision that inspired the original purpose can still be realized. Shae Von Marsh, resident and business owner, stated, “As Proprietress of Chanceford Hall, we are excited to have the Black-Eyed Susan return to her home on the Pocomoke River in Snow Hill. Seeing this vessel docked in our little town evokes momentous emotion and provides hope that Snow Hill will continue to prosper. As a unique attraction, the Black-Eyed Susan increases visitors to our area on the Eastern Shore and we believe that as it grows in popularity and recognition, it will continue to help introduce new people to the charm that Snow Hill has to offer.” The repairs are estimated to take approximately one month to complete.