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Transportation committee tour means more money

As biologist Lee Miller pours cold, Puget Sound water on eelgrass shoots bundled for planting at the Clinton Ferry dock, state Senator Jim Horn -- chair of the Senate Transportation Committee -- handles a bit of the protected plant as Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen asks questions. About a third of the committee was at the ferry dock Tuesday morning on the second day of their tour of the state
As biologist Lee Miller pours cold, Puget Sound water on eelgrass shoots bundled for planting at the Clinton Ferry dock, state Senator Jim Horn -- chair of the Senate Transportation Committee -- handles a bit of the protected plant as Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen asks questions. About a third of the committee was at the ferry dock Tuesday morning on the second day of their tour of the state's ferry system.
— image credit: Matt Johnson

Apparently there's nothing like a two-day road trip to loosen the purse strings held by Washington's senators.

Landing at the Clinton ferry dock Tuesday morning, four members of the state Senate Highways and Transportation Committee, along with other transportation officials from around the state, seemed open to any good idea that related to ferry docks, highways and even multi-million dollar efforts to preserve eelgrass.

"I think we will be able to get more money for Mukilteo after this," said Camano Island Senator Mary Margaret Haugen, who is the ranking Democrat on the committee and an islands transportation advocate.

Treating the Whidbey Island portion of the group's trip a bit like her own private tour, Haugen led her colleagues as they looked over the recently completed dock and an eelgrass planting operation in the tidelands below. Unlike during the spring session of the Legislature, none of the senators was mouthing "no" about anything. In fact, Senator Jim Hurd, who represents Mercer Island and the Bellevue area and is currently the chair of the transportation committee, didn't even balk at the multi-million dollar cost of keeping the a 30,000-square-foot eelgrass population alive and healthy at the Clinton dock. He said public projects, like the $20-plus million dock are sometimes the only way to make environmentally responsible inroads in some areas.

"Environmentalists shouldn't see a large project as the enemy," he said.

With that attitude, the middle-aged Republican senator found common ground with twenty-something biologist Sue Sargeant. Sargeant, who works for Battelle Marine Sciences Laboratory on the state's eelgrass propagation project at the Clinton dock, said she was encouraged by the attitudes of the visiting politicians.

"They're very proactive," she said. "They're trying to do right by the environment."

Foremost in the minds of the senators, ferry officials and others on the tour, however, was the financial health of the state as ensured by the state's transportation system. Elmira Forner, a member of the state's transportation commission and an Eastern Washington resident, said it is in the interest of the entire state to make sure Western Washington's transportation systems run smoothly. Those systems, she said, help bring tourists to her part of the state, where apple farmers are converting their land to tourist-dependent vineyards.

"I think it's our responsibility to get that information out," she said.

Also of concern in keeping transportation moving, said Sen. Haugen, is avoiding oppressive federal security rules aboard state ferries. After attending a forum about ferry security in Everett last night, Haugen had strong words about the concept of car and body searches on state ferry docks, one option possible under a Coast Guard sponsored security plan.

"I'm prepared to ask the state attorney general to challenge the searches," she said.

Other items up for discussion as the 15-member group toured the South Whidbey dock and prepared to head for the Keystone ferry dock and Anacortes included the passage of the state's new nickel-per-gallon gasoline tax -- which goes directly to transportation projects -- a new deep-water dock for Keystone, and the standardization of the Washington State Ferries fleet.

The group started its tour Monday with rides aboard Seattle and Kitsap Peninsula ferries, and with a briefing on Kitsap Transit's plans to run a ballot item to fund its own foot ferry.

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