More money earmarked to study Keystone boats

The Keystone ferry was cancelled for several days last March when a hull cracked in one of the vessels and a replacement wasn’t available.

While the incident showed what can happen when the antiquated, Steel Electric class vessels falter, Washington State Ferries will continue to use the 80-year-old boats for the foreseeable future while officials study options for new vessels.

Officials are looking at someday replacing the vessels with newer ones that could hold as many as 100 vessels. However, State Ferries doesn’t have a timeline showing when the replacement would take place or the money to pay for the new boats.

Joy Goldenberg, communications manager for Washington State Ferries, said staff will spend the next year studying options to replace the Klickitat and the Quinault, which are two of four boats in the fleet that can navigate the difficult entrance to Keystone Harbor on Central Whidbey Island. Ferries have run aground in the past and low tides often prompt cancellations of sailings from shallow Keystone Harbor.

State Ferries has spent several million dollars over the past few years studying ways to upgrade the Keystone Ferry terminal. Options studied include altering the harbor to accommodate larger vessels or moving the ferry terminal outside Keystone Harbor. As first contemplated, the larger vessels would have been similar to the 144-vehicle boats that currently sail out of Mukilteo.

However, the communities on both sides of Admiralty Inlet seemed dead-set against having larger boats serving the route, said Traci Brewer-Rogstad, director of marine operations for Washington State Ferries.

Residents were concerned about the traffic impacts of having such a large number of cars filing into their communities at one time.

In addition, the proposal to move the Keystone terminal to the east end of the spit was met by stiff opposition from local residents and powerful politicians, specifically Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee.

It looks like another $1 million will be spent on the vessel study and environmental impact statement over the next two years. While an objective of the new vessels is not to modify Keystone Harbor, the configuration of the harbor, and whether it would need to be altered, depends on the type of vessels chosen, Goldenberg said.

Once the vessels are chosen, the ferry system will have to go through the state Legislature to get funding to pay for them.

The four Steel Electric vessels currently running the Port Townsend to Keystone route are nearing the end of their operational life.

Last March, the Keystone run was canceled for several days after the only ferry available had to undergo emergency repairs after a crack was discovered in its hull. Due to maintenance schedules, a second boat was not immediately available.

That left commuters scrambling to find ways to and from Whidbey Island. Some people had to take two ferries, some took the long way across the bridge, while others simply waited it out in a hotel.

Brewer-Rogstad said Washington State Ferries is committed to maintaining the ferry route and recent troubles are nothing new.

“That’s been the same situation at Port Townsend/Keystone for years,” Brewer-Rogstad said.

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