News

Keystone harbor top priority

The people have spoken, and they seem to have been listened to as well, as state legislators last week reduced funding for the Keystone terminal relocation project and ordered ferry officials to concentrate on the current site and smaller ferries to serve the run.

Spearheaded by Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, the final supplemental transportation budget cut the project study funding from $2.7 million to $1 million.

Haugen originally asked funding to be cut to $300,000, but then decided that might kill the project altogether. The House supplemental transportation budget called for eliminating funding entirely.

“We included this amount of funding in order to move forward with the project,” Haugen said.

The ferry system must now form a citizen advisory group which will meet with Department of Transportation staff at least three times during the year-long analysis period.

The citizen advisory group must include one Washington state ferry pilot, two members of the traveling public that use the Keystone run on a regular basis, and one tug boat pilot.

Budget sets new goals

As outlined in the budget, the technical analysis overseen by the group must address:

The costs and benefits associated with preserving and maintaining the terminal, including enlarging and dredging the terminal.

Ridership projections associated with preserving and maintaining the current terminal.

Maintaining and retrofitting existing vessels so they can serve the terminal.

Coordinating the impact of vehicles using the ferry run with highway capacity.

How many, if any, new vessels should be constructed.

The impact on the environment.

The committee will submit a report to the legislative transportation committee by Dec. 1, 2004, and the report must include alternatives to relocating the Keystone terminal.

Washington State Ferries determined two years ago that the aging steel-electric ferries serving the Keystone-Port Townsend run had to be replaced, and that the best option was to replace the two boats with one larger 130-car boat which was interchangeable with others in the fleet. They plan to build four such boats in the next few years.

The bigger boats would require a larger harbor, thus the harbor relocation project was set in motion. The public was not given the opportunity to comment on the boat replacement plan.

But, in a public comment period held in December 2003, public sentiment was overwhelmingly against moving the terminal and replacing the boats with larger vessels, which would run every 90 minutes year round.

Residents of Telaker Shores, at the south end of Keystone Spit, were particularly concerned about one of the locations being studied, as it would bring the terminal to their front door.

They were relieved at the legislature’s decision.

“It’s fantastic news,” Doug Nelson, Telaker Shores homeowner, said Tuesday. “I’m gratified by the support of Sen. Haugen and the other legislators. It’s almost like someone with common sense looked at it.”

Year-round Telaker resident Lynne Lassiter said she was “tickled to death” by the shift in focus. “I feel like 75 pounds have been lifted from my shoulders.”

Lassiter and others questioned how the ferry system could consider going ahead with the project when it was making cuts in services in an effort to save money. She was grateful to Sen. Haugen for asking the same question.

Focus shifts to harbor, boats

Ferry officials met Monday to discuss where to go from here.

Russ East, terminal projects manager, said the decision created a “change in direction,” but not necessarily a departure from the original plan.

“We were always going to study in-harbor options,” he said.

The ferry system will now focus on studying the Keystone harbor option first, and everything else will be put on hold.

“We are going to proceed with the plan the legislature has laid out,” he said.

If the Keystone harbor is determined to not be the best option, the group will then look at the other two sites presented at the public meetings in December. One is at the other end of Keystone Spit, the other at the far end of Admirals Cove.

East said it is possible that after studying the existing harbor, the citizens’ group and WSF may decide the harbor is not the best option. Whatever that decision is, this move sets the project back at least a year, he said, and with the need to study vessel alternatives, it could be longer than that.

East said the ferry system is still moving ahead with plans to build four new boats, whether any will be used on the Keystone run or not. Building replacement boats to fit the run, as Sen. Haugen advocates, would be in addition to those four.

“There is a clear message there,” East said. The ferry system will look at alternatives to the 130-car ferries for the route. “We’ve never looked at retrofitting the vessels to the point that we will now.”

You can reach News-Times reporter Marcie Miller at mmiller@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611

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