A small effort that began in Clinton and blossomed into an area-wide lobbying campaign that included several municipalities and a state senator was a success.
The 144-car Suquamish is coming to South Whidbey.
Washington State Ferries announced the decision Friday. The transportation agency has been discussing where to homeport the boat for more than a month, considering a variety of different routes. In the end, the Clinton-to-Mukilteo route emerged as the run with the greatest need.
The boat, which won’t be delivered until the fall of 2018, won’t serve on the run year round, however. Homeported in Mukilteo, it will be here from mid-may through mid-October, ferry leaders said.
“We based the decision to place the Suquamish on the Mukilteo/Clinton run on a variety of factors including capacity, maintenance, operating costs and ridership numbers,” said agency Assistant Secretary Lynne Griffith in a news release. “We think the best use of our newest ferry is serving a busy route during peak seasons and providing relief for other vessels during the slower winter months.”
The boat will fill in as a maintenance/relief vessel the rest of the year for other routes served by Super- and Olympic-class boats.
“Wow,” Lynch said, when informed by a Record reporter.
“It should help a great deal in the summer,” he said.
He complimented ferry officials for making the decision based on the “right” reasons, primarily ridership statistics which show the run is the busiest motor-vehicle route in the system, shuttling more than 2.2 million cars in 2015.
Dave Hoogerwerf, the community council member who was instrumental in getting the lobbying effort off the ground, said he also was happy about the news but said it was unfortunate the boat could not be here year round. Ferry backups are not just a summertime thing, he said.
“My reaction is great that we’re getting it in the peak summer months but we need it in the winter too,” Hoogerwerf said.
Hoogerwerf, who is also the longtime chairman of the Clinton Ferry Advisory Committee, acknowledged the realities that other routes have ferry needs as well.
The community council issued a resolution earlier this year in response to the long lines, formally requesting the new boat come to South Whidbey. Doing so would alleviate the problems created by runs with mis-matched vessels. Larger boats take longer to load, and riders complain the Tokitae will occasionally be forced to leave the dock before it’s fully loaded to make way for the other smaller, arriving ferry.
The request quickly grew with other municipalities, including the county commissioners, the Langley City Council, and chambers of commerces, creating their own formal requests. The Freeland Chamber of Commerce even launched a karaoke contest that asked people to create videos of themselves singing why they wanted the larger boat while waiting in line.
“We liked the rap video,” said John Vezina, government affairs liaison for state ferries.
He reiterated that the agency looked a variety of factors, and public comment mattered. But the deciding factor in the decision was capacity.
“We looked at the data and there’s no way you can look at this route and not know it’s not one of the busiest routes and needs the capacity,” he said.
Another heavyweight in the lobbying effort was Sen. Barbara Bailey. Responding to the growing community effort, she formally requested the department assign the new boat — the last of four budgeted Olympic-class ferries — to the South Whidbey route.
She also was thrilled by the news.
“I’m very excited,” she said.
“This boat is going to be a welcome addition to the 10th district,” she added.
Both the community council and Bailey also asked the state to expedite its plan to build overhead loading at the Clinton Terminal; it’s planned for the new terminal in Mukilteo and critics say having it only on one side will create in imbalance in loading times.
Bailey has asked the agency to look at a study to determine if there are any environmental hurdles standing in the way of overhead loading in Clinton. She’s hopeful the effort will pay off and result in the facility improvement.
One community concern voiced during the lobbying effort was that two larger boats will necessitate a schedule change. Vezina said ferry leaders don’t believe one will be required, but that the agency will monitor the situation closely. If a problem emerges, the transportation department would hold an extensive community vetting process before making any decisions.
“We will, along with all of you, keep an eye on that,” Vezina said.