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Only one ferry in plans for Coupeville

Leaders on Central Whidbey were shocked Friday morning when they learned a second ferry planned for the Coupeville-to-Port Townsend route may be moved to another part of the system.

The Washington State Department of Transportation’s Ferries Division is looking at a variety of options to save millions of dollars. One idea is to move the 64-car Salish ferry to the inter-island route serving the San Juans. The Salish is currently under construction at Todd Shipyards in Seattle. It was scheduled to be the second boat serving Keystone Harbor during the busy summer season starting mid-2011.

Ferries Division Assistant Secretary David Moseley said moving the Salish to the San Juans would be part of a vessel shuffle that would save the ferry system approximately $10.5 million over the next two years. The ferry system is supposed to pare nearly $17 million from its budget over the next biennium as part of the Department of Transportation’s efforts to come up with a list of $212 million worth of cuts.

The high dollar amount is forcing officials to consider cutting sailings and reducing capacity on routes.

“You can’t get there without looking at some options that includes service reductions,” Moseley said Friday morning.

The news of the possible loss of the Salish from the Coupeville-to-Port Townsend route was an eye-opener to leaders on Whidbey Island Friday morning. They hadn’t yet heard the news.

“I was very surprised and very disturbed,” said Lynda Eccles, executive director for the Central Whidbey Chamber of Commerce. She added the community is dependent on the ferry system. The second ferry would help during the busy summer tourist season, but is also used by commuters who live on both sides of Admiralty Inlet.

Coupeville Mayor Nancy Conard also hadn’t heard the news until Friday morning, but was disappointed about the possibility of losing the second ferry.

“We were hoping for restoration of the same level of service we enjoyed before,” Conard said. Prior to November 2007, two old Steel Electric ferries served the route during the summer months.

Those 80-year-old vessels were retired in late 2007 due to hull corrosion. Since then service on the route was limited because the Pierce County-owned Steilacoom II, which holds 50 cars, was the only vessel officials could find to navigate the difficult entry into Keystone Harbor. However, the route has been plagued with numerous cancellations due to vessel breakdowns, heavy fog, high winds and low tides.

According to information the Department of Transportation submitted to the Office of Financial Management, the Salish would replace the Evergreen State on the San Juan Islands route. The 87-car Evergreen State would then start serving the Fauntleroy route. That would free up a larger, Issaquah Class ferry to sail on the Seattle-Bremerton route. The 144-car, Super Class ferry on that route would be de-crewed and taken out of service.

In addition, the ferry system would also eliminate the last nightly sailing on the Mukilteo/Clinton route, which would save an additional $1.2 million, Moseley said.

Dave Hoogerwerf, chairman of the Clinton Ferry Advisory Committee and co-chair of the committee’s executive council, said Friday that more details need to be made available about the proposal to limit late-night sailings on the Clinton-Mukilteo route.

“It’s obviously the result of budget cuts and the effects of the election on Tuesday,” Hoogerwerf said.

He also said the Washington State Transportation Commission received a letter Thursday from anti-tax activist Tim Eyman, saying that a proposed 2.5 percent increase in ferry rates should be eliminated.

Eyman’s latest ballot measure, I-1053, which would require a two-thirds majority of the Legislature to raise taxes, was approved by voters on Tuesday.

“That would cause another hole in the ferry budget for sure,” Hoogerwerf said of Eyman’s ferry-rate suggestion.

The WSTC is proposing a 2.5-percent increase in ferry fares on all routes except for the San Juans, where it would be 2 percent.

The public can comment on the proposed fare increase by email to transc@wstc.wa.gov or call 360-705-7070.

Meanwhile, on South Whidbey, a public meeting on the latest proposals by ferry officials will be from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 13, at Langley Middle School.

The cost-saving announcement comes a little more than one week before the Chetzemoka, Washington State Ferries’ newest vessel, is set to start service out of Keystone Harbor. The 64-car vessel’s inaugural sailing is scheduled for Nov. 14. Officials had hoped that the larger ferry would have been one step closer to restored full service on the route.

“I’m going to be disappointed that we can’t restore service, but I’m sure glad we’re getting the Chetzemoka,” Conard said.

Eccles said the larger ferry sailing from Keystone Harbor would provide an economic boost to the community.

Conard said it’s difficult to gauge the second ferry’s impact on the community. She said Whidbey businesses don’t track sales by location. She also understands the difficult fiscal position the ferry system is in.

Port Townsend Mayor Michelle Sandoval also said it’s difficult to determine impacts of the second ferry because the town has endured limited service for so long. On the other hand, Sandoval said Moseley contacted her Thursday about the potential loss of the Salish to the Port Townsend route.

“We have been limping along for three years,” said Sandoval, adding that she doesn’t know how the ferry system could statistically determine a way to justify the reduction in service.

She added that the limited service over the past three years has skewed ridership numbers because visitors have had to endure long waits and have been apprehensive about potential canceled sailings on the beleaguered route.

The Ferries Division submitted its options for potential cuts to the Washington State Department of Financial Management this week.

Moseley said he doesn’t know whether the options for possible reductions in service will become a reality. He said more information will be known when the governor develops a draft budget in mid-December.

— South Whidbey Record Reporter Roy Jacobson contributed to this report.

Community Events, April 2014

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