Keystone Harbor expansion preferred

Keystone Harbor provides the most difficult approach for ferry vessels in the state. The swift cross currents make it hard for boats to maneuver and the harbor’s condition limits the size of vessels that can be used for the ferry run.

To modernize the situation, ferry officials and community members have been meeting for the better part of a year to help plan the future of the Keystone/Port Townsend ferry route.

During Tuesday evening’s Keystone Citizens Advisory Group meeting, officials unveiled the four harbor options they have come up with that will be presented to the Washington State Legislature next month.

The two preferred options call for altering the harbor to allow for bigger boats.

Two other options call for maintaining the current harbor while using smaller vessels.

Not considered an option is moving the ferry terminal, an idea which caused a furor on Central Whidbey last year, and which resulted in the formation of the Citizens Advisory Committee.

The preferred options for altering the harbor include either extending the current rock jetty 600 feet beyond its current location, or expanding the harbor by moving the jetty 300 feet to the east. That move would eliminate the parking lot and boat ramp located east of the harbor but wouldn’t affect nearby Fort Casey State Park.

Vladimir Shepsis, a consultant for Washington State Ferries, said either of those options would reduce the cross current velocities for boats making the ferry run. Expanding the harbor width would provide a wider path for vessels traveling into the harbor.

Keystone Harbor on Whidbey’s east side is the most difficult harbor to navigate in the ferry system and vessels have run aground there in the past. In addition, it’s susceptible to frequent closures due to swift currents and extreme tides.

Marianne Edain of Whidbey Environmental Action Network asked about the environmental analyses of the various options. Responding, Doug Playter, another consultant for the ferry system, said obtaining the permits to change the harbor would be difficult and require extensive environmental review.

Goldenberg said more answers will be learned when an environmental study is done on all four options.

In addition to the changes to the jetty, plans also call for dredging the harbor four feet to provide enough depth for larger boats. Washington State Ferries wants to use 130-vessel boats on the route in an attempt to standardize its fleet. Those vessels would be similar to the ones operating on the Mukilteo/Clinton ferry route.

One thing for certain, the days of the smaller, 75-year-old Steel Electric boats, which are the oldest vessels in state fleet, are numbered.

“Steel Electrics are cost prohibitive,” said Joy Goldenberg, public involvement manager for the ferry system.

With little enthusiasm, officials are also looking at maintaining the current harbor and buying new “Keystone special” vessels that would be similar in size to the Steel Electric boats, and have a propulsion system that could better navigate the harbor.

However, those boats would only be used on the Keystone run and service interruptions could happen if one vessel breaks down while another is out of service for maintenance, said Russ East, director of terminal engineering for Washington State Ferries.

Goldenberg explained, “That’s why we’re striving for interchangeable vessels. That will allow us to maintain seamless service.”

Th meeting of the Keystone Citizens Advisory Committee was the last one before a report is presented to the Legislature on the future of the Kestone ferry terminal. The committee was formed in early 2004 when the legislature appropriated $1 million for the ferry system to study the harbor.

The report on Keystone Harbor is due to the Washington Legislative Transportation Committee on Jan. 7 2005.

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