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‘Island Home’ gets new home

The community wants them. Legislators want them. And now the ferry system will get them.

Washington State Ferries is moving forward with the design of two “Island Home” ferries that will serve the Port Townsend to Keystone route in two years. Those two ferries would be in addition to the smaller one the ferry system is planning to build immediately. The smaller ferry would be modeled after the Steilacoom II, which is currently serving the route.

The Island Home ferry, which was designed in Seattle and currently operates in Massachusetts, would hold between 60 and 80 cars and approximately 1,200 passengers. It provides a larger vessel that legislators and community leaders say would be a better fit to the ferry route.

“I think that’s an excellent choice,” Coupeville Mayor Nancy Conard said.

She is also a member of Port Townsend/Keystone Partnership Group. She sees the smaller ferry as more of a stop-gap solution to vehicle ferry service and the Island Home as a better long-term solution.

The mayors of both Coupeville and Port Townsend sent a letter to local legislators and the governor asking that legislation concerning ferries for Keystone include the larger ferries.

The Island Home idea came out of a vessel planning study the ferry system was developing when the antiquated Steel Electric vessels were pulled from service in November 2007 for safety reasons. The purpose of the study was to find a suitable replacement for the 80-year-old ferries.

Legislators asked the ferry system to send some staff familiar with the Port Townsend/ Keystone route to Massachusetts last month to evaluate the Island Home. They seemed impressed with the vessel’s performance.

The ferry system is currently accepting bids for one ferry based on the design of the Steilacoom II, which holds 50 cars and 300 passengers.

Documents originally stated that the ferry system would build between one and three of the smaller vessels, however, that language changed once the Legislature’s direction became clear, said Hadley Greene, spokesperson for Washington State Ferries.

The Legislature is providing $84.5 million for construction of one 50-car ferry and two 60- to 80-car ferries.

Early estimates show the smaller ferry will cost approximately $20 million.

Greene said work is underway to modify the designs of the Island Home into a version that will better fit the Port Townsend/Keystone route. The first Island Home vessel is scheduled to be ready for service by June 2010 and the second ready by December 2010.

The public will have a chance to learn about the latest plans for the Port Townsend/Keystone route by attending a Ferry Partnership meeting scheduled Thursday, March 27, 3 p.m. in Camp Casey’s Auditorium B.

During that meeting, David Moseley, assistant secretary for the Department of Transportation’s ferries division, is scheduled to announce the low bidder for the first replacement ferry.

The meeting will also touch upon plans to mitigate the reduction in service that will take place this summer because only one vessel is able to make the run across Admiralty Inlet. Two ferries used to serve the route during the busy tourist season.

The ferry system is set to increase the number of sailings beginning the week before Memorial Day and continuing until the week after Labor Day.

In addition, each town will receive money to advertise the ferry service changes that motorists will have to endure.

Conard also said that there will be a presentation about the possibility of adding a reservation system at Keystone so riders will have a way of guaranteeing a spot on the ferry.

Following the Partnership meeting, a Ferry Advisory Committee public hearing is scheduled to take place in the same building.

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