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DOT Says It Won't Allow Ferries For Parties Again

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The North Carolina Department of Transportation will no longer use ferries for any duty other than hauling vehicles across waterways after one was used as a party boat with a seafood buffet and a steel drum band during a sailing festival.
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    The Floyd Lupton ferry was taken out of service on the Neuse River for five days before the

    Tall Ships Festival

    in Beaufort and Morehead City so it could be cleaned and painted. A smaller ferry was put in its place, resulting in delays on the busy route across the river.

    The party cruise on July 1 for about 200 people -- including Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and other elected lawmakers -- cost about $31,000. Most of the cost was paid with state money.

    A DOT report sent Monday to Gov. Mike Easley said the agency "realizes that it should have had more appropriate protocols and requirements for use of its vessel at the tall ships event."

    Some officials, including Marshall, have said they would repay the state now that the financing of the cruise has become public, but soon after their free cruise some wrote thank-you notes to the state Ports Authority, which organized the cruise and has since apologized.

    "What more could we have asked for on such a beautiful day?" wrote state Rep. Arthur Williams, D-Beaufort.

    Ports officials said in a report to Easley it "failed to take into consideration how this event might be viewed by the public. Public reaction has created new awareness within the authority."

    Easley said he will review the reports from the authority and the DOT.

    The DOT has released more than 300 photographs of the cruise taken by photographer hired by the department. Ports Authority spokeswoman Karen Fox said in an e-mail message that the photos would be given "to our legislative & other VIP guests as a souvenir of their once-in-a-lifetime experience."

    The cruise approved by former DOT deputy secretary David King, who retired in June after 33 years of service, allowed the VIPs to see the sailing vessels and required an escort by two Marine Patrol boats. Some members of the public missed the event or touring the boats because of crowding.

    Despite the controversy, Edgecombe County Commissioner Calvin Anderson said the excursion proved valuable. He said he spent nearly two hours aboard the ferry with Roger Erdelac, president and chief executive officer of Blue Hawaiian Fiberglass Pools. The Key Largo, Fla.-based company announced a few days later that it would open a plant in Edgecombe County that would invest $3 million and create up to 69 jobs over the next three years.

    "There's nothing negative, but everything positive about this," Anderson said. "This was a chance to showcase the eastern region, our low-cost of living, high quality of life, the beaches and the sand hills and all we have to offer."

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