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Oak Harbor boosts passenger ferry

The City of Oak Harbor is taking the lead in trying to organize local governments into a group supportive of passenger-only ferry service for Island County.

The Port of South Whidbey commissioners decided Monday night to at least listen to what Oak Harbor Mayor Patricia Cohen proposes.

“Go to the meeting and find out what she has in mind,” advised Chuck Edwards, port accountant, at Wednesday’s port meeting in Freeland. Commissioners Gene Sears, Jan Smith and Jim Hawley concurred that one of them would attend. No meeting date has been set.

Cohen sent a letter dated Oct. 3 to Island County, Coupeville, Langley, Everett, the Coupeville Port District and Port of South Whidbey regarding “Whidbey Island to Everett passenger ferry service.”

Cohen referred to a demonstration passenger-only ferry run conducted last March. Everett-based Mosquito Fleet provided the boat, and the route went from Everett to Oak Harbor, to Coupeville, Langley and Clinton, then back to Everett. Island Transit cooperated by taking passengers to and from the docking points. Most of the passengers were government officials.

“During the demonstration we all came to appreciate the value of having a passenger ferry service that would serve the entire island with connection to the Everett area,” Cohen wrote in here letter.

The recent demise of the commuter airline Harbor Air makes a passenger ferry all the more important, Cohen suggested. “The need for us to establish a connection to a major transportation hub has been intensified,” she stated.

Cohen proposed an “interlocal agreement between jurisdictions that would endorse, support and encourage development of a passenger ferry route serving Whidbey Island to Everett.”

Cohen was not available late this week. Her assistant, Krista Blackburn, said Thursday that the possibility of a regular passenger ferry would help Oak Harbor in its effort to obtain state and federal grant money to build a city dock, which would economically benefit the downtown area.

Blackburn said federal and state transportation officials would like to see a ferry demonstration project. “It’s a big factor to them,” she said.

The Port of South Whidbey has lent limited support to various passenger ferry proposals through the years. It even built a dock in Clinton capable of serving passenger ferries, but regular service never materialized.

Mosquito Fleet owner Michael Bennett said Thursday that his company will end its seasonal whale watching trips this weekend, so a boat would be available for further demonstrations. “We could certainly help do that,” he said. “I’d love to do some more demonstrations; we just need some help.”

Everett is building a transportation hub in the area of its train station near the waterfront. Blackburn said that is the most likely destination for a Whidbey Island ferry at this point.

Mosquito Fleet has always said government subsidies would be needed to make regular passenger ferry service feasible. Bennett said he recently attended a meeting with federal transportation officials, and “they really like the concept.”

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