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Nichols helps work Kingston ferry deal

When the going gets tough, the tough go to Whidbey Island.

A group of about 20 Kitsap County and Kingston officials headed for Freeland on a recent morning on a foot-ferry fact-finding mission, a mission that could mean work for Freeland boat builders and more options for ferry passengers.

At about 8 a.m. on Feb. 8, Kitsap County Commissioners Chris Endresen and Tim Botkin, several Kingston Chamber of Commerce members, Kingston Port officials and business owners headed out from Kingston to Nichols Brothers Boat Builders yard in Freeland to take a look around. They were looking for boats that would give Kingston a passenger-only ferry link to Seattle.

For its part, Nichols Brothers is going to help them find the boats they need.

Matt Nichols, president of the company, said a dearth of high-speed passenger boats in the Puget Sound region has his company and two passenger boat companies looking around for vessels to do the job.

"Right now, we're boatless," he said this week.

The Kitsap County group came to Freeland to look at the kinds of boats Nichols builds, to find out how much it would cost to build a new vessel, and what it would take to get some kind of passenger-only service started in Kitsap County.

"We're trying to figure out what's going on here," said Tom Waggoner, one of the driving forces behind the passenger-only push.

The group has been been talking to Mosquito Fleet operators and Clipper Navigation about possibly operating the service, Waggoner said. At this point, getting a boat is the biggest problem. Nichols said he will meet with officials from Clipper and Argosy Cruises on March 1 to talk that issue over. He said he wants his company to be involved because passenger service between Kingston and Seattle could one day give his company some work.

"Maybe we have to build them boats from the get-go," he said.

For the past five years, members of the group that visited the Nichols yard have rallied for an expansion in passenger-only service including a Kingston-Seattle run. Ferry supporters have taken their message to Olympia and found other courses of action.

Hope sprang up last year when Clipper Navigation submitted an application to provide a catamaran service from Kingston. A few months later, the idea sank because of expected opposition form the Inland Boatmans' Union. Clipper withdrew its application.

Disappointed, but not defeated, the group has rebounded. Though details of the plan are not forthcoming, Nichols Brothers could be a key piece in the puzzle, Waggoner said.

"It's frustrating because they've built boats for California ã Alameda and the San Francisco area ã and they're in our own back yard," he said. "We want to see what they've got."

Nichols said he would like to link the push for passenger ferries on the Kingston run to promoting similar service for the Clinton-Mukilteo ferry run.

Record editor Matt Johnson contributed to this article.

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