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Keystone terminal move endorsed

Relocating the Keystone ferry terminal on Central Whidbey has become a high priority for Washington State Ferries despite continuing budget problems.

The ferry system commissioned a study of the Keystone move last fall, and it’s about wrapped up, according to Ray Deardorf, director of planning for Washington State Ferries.

“It looks like it’s feasible to locate the (Keystone) terminal outside the harbor,” Deardorf said Tuesday. Difficult currents and tidal conditions frequently cause the cancellation of ferry trips between Keystone and Port Townsend, and the tiny harbor is too small to be used by any but the oldest ferries.

Deardorf said the Keystone ferry terminal was moved inside the harbor in the 1940s due to the currents outside the harbor. “But those ferries had very little horsepower,” he said. The recent study shows that newer Issaquah Class ferries, such as those that serve the Clinton to Mukilteo route, would have “fewer missed sailings each year” if they operated outside the harbor

Presently, an average of 95 runs per year are cancelled from Keystone. The harbor’s extremely narrow inlet is subject to strong ebb currents and southeasterly swells from Puget Sound.

Deardorf said the complete study is not quite ready for release, but State Ferries has already announced other findings. Among them are:

l The current location limits the size of the vessels operating on the route.

l The current terminal site has “severe” problems with access to and from Highway 20 and Engle Road.

l The ferries’ safety, efficiency and reliability could be improved by moving the terminal out of Keystone harbor.

l A new site outside the harbor would have several benefits cited by the State Ferries study, including:

l Safer navigation and a more reliable sailing schedule between Keystone and Port Townsend.

l Improved environmental conditions as the inlet has a chance to return to a more natural state.

l The opportunity to enhance recreational uses with fishing docks and other mitigations.

Deardorf said it is uncertain where the new terminal would be located, but it would likely be somewhere on the Keystone spit to the east of the harbor.

To proceed with the plan, a full Environmental Impact Statement will be required, Deardorf said. That document will weight the pros and cons of several possible terminal sites and address ways to mitigate environmental damage. Also addressed will be the possibility of improving the present harbor to better accommodate the ferries.

With most other capital projects on hold due to funding problems, why is Keystone still on the “to do” list?

“It’s kind of key, pardon the pun,” Deardorf answered. “We need to standardize the fleet as a cost saving. We need more fleet commonality, and we can replace two little boats with one larger one.”

Keystone is presently served by the Quinault and Klickitat, two Steel Electric class boats more than 75 years old. Both operate in the summer and only one the rest of the year. Plans are to begin construction of the new Keystone terminal in July 2005 and complete the job in June 2008. At some point, a single Issaquah Class boat will serve the route year round and the two old boats will be retired.

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