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Olympia hacks at Keystone funds

The Washington State Senate is close to forcing Washington State Ferries to abandon alternative terminal sites for the Keystone ferry project.

“Alternative locations are off the table,” Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, said Friday.

Washington State Ferries has been in the process of studying where to locate a terminal that would be large enough to accommodate 130-car ferries to replace the 75-year-old 65-car ferries currently serving the route.

Alternatives presented at two public meetings in December included siting a new terminal at the other end of Keystone Spit — at the county-owned Driftwood Park — or at the far end of Admirals Cove.

Haugen, residents along the beach, and environmentalists have opposed both sites, and urged the ferry system to keep the harbor where it is.

If the Senate version of the supplemental transportation budget passes, they may get their wish.

“We’re telling them, look at that terminal,” Haugen said.

Haugen also wants the ferry system to reconsider a plan to put bigger boats on the run, citing concerns about the increased volume of traffic traveling island roads as a result.

“This would have a huge impact on the community,” she said.

Ferry officials say the larger boats are needed in order to create a fleet of boats that are interchangeable throughout the system, thus saving money in the long run. One boat would serve the Keystone run year-round, with departures every hour and a half. Ferry officials say, with half the summer runs but a larger capacity, the “throughput” would be the same as the old boats.

Haugen said her goal is to get the ferry system to look at putting smaller boats on the run.

“The department (WSF) says one-size-fits-all and that they are cheaper to maintain,” she said, “but I think smaller boats could be interchangeable too.”

Several runs in the ferry system are currently served by less than 130-car vessels.

Ferry officials say studying alternatives is a required part of the process.

Celia Schorr, public outreach coordinator for the Keystone project, said the federal Army Corps of Engineers requires that all alternative sites be explored before a site is chosen and permits issued.

“The Corps will not relax its requirement for the environmental review process,” Schorr said.

The ferry system has spent $800,000 so far on environmental studies for the Keystone project, Russ East, director of terminal engineering said, and $4.5 million has been allocated for the project in the current biennium.

East said WSF will react based on what the legislators decide.

The Keystone project fared better in the Senate version of the supplemental transportation budget than in the House version. The House chose to cut funding for the project entirely.

Rep. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, said the House decided to eliminate the finding of the environmental impact statement and preliminary design for the time being.

“This would allow us a chance to step back and look at the terminal relocation and if it’s needed, and to get more community input,” she said.

The House also backs an effort to look at options of building a boat that is specific to that location, and improving the present harbor.

Schorr said ferry officials are working with the Senate transportation committee to clarify the intent of the language of the provision, and to respond to the community.

“The project team is paying very close attention to community feedback,” she said. “It is not our intent to harm the communities that depend on the ferry system.”

Seattle attorney Dan Thompson, who owns a house in the community adjacent to Driftwood Park at Keystone, felt the legislature’s move was a good sign. He has been a vocal opponent of the project, which he said was not well thought out.

“The solution has always been the original solution; two smaller boats running every 90 minutes,” he said. “I think this is the death knell for an agency that’s out of control.”

The supplemental transportation budget has passed the House. The full Senate is expected to vote on the measure later this week.

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