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Study urges new sites for ferry

A Washington State Ferry docks at the Keystone terminal on the west side of  Whidbey Island, completing a run from Port Townsend. The state is looking for new locations on Whidbey for this terminal so that larger boats can be used and the strong currents of Admiralty Inlet won’t affect ferry service. - Jessie Stensland / staff photo
A Washington State Ferry docks at the Keystone terminal on the west side of Whidbey Island, completing a run from Port Townsend. The state is looking for new locations on Whidbey for this terminal so that larger boats can be used and the strong currents of Admiralty Inlet won’t affect ferry service.
— image credit: Jessie Stensland / staff photo

Building a $36 to $62 million ferry terminal on Keystone Spit in Central Whidbey is perfectly feasible, according to a Washington State Ferries study released Sept. 7.

Nevertheless, some Whidbey Island residents are still concerned about the effect a new terminal could have on the environment, wildlife, housing, traffic and fishing.

The purpose of the final “Keystone Ferry Terminal Relocation Feasibility Study” is “to identify a range of potential new sites for a ferry terminal and to determine if there are fatal flaws associated with relocating the terminal outside the existing harbor.”

“It’s very preliminary,” said Celia Schorr, public education and outreach manager for Washington State Ferries. She explained that the department just began an extensive environmental review that will take one to two years to complete.

But even though the project may not be a sure thing, Schorr said the legislature already budgeted $69 million for the project in the 2005-07 biennium. That includes $53.7 million for a new terminal and $16.2 million for improvements on the Port Townsend side.

The study focuses on two potential areas for the terminals. The “west area” is about 1,800 feet east of the current harbor, just past the underwater park. The “east area” is farther down the beach, in an area where there is housing. The latter area would be less expensive and result in fewer trip cancellations each year.

Washington State Ferries is interested in moving the terminal to a spot where newer, larger boats will be able to dock. The ferry dock is in a shallow, man-made harbor that must be dredged periodically.

Currently, 76-year-old steel electric boats are used for the Keystone to Port Townsend route because they have a shallow draft, but these vessels are due to be retired in 10 years. By then, State Ferries officials hope to standardize the fleet with interchangeable boats. Another problem is that sailings on this route are canceled an average of 95 times a year because of low tides.

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