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Three vie for ferry service

The Keystone to Port Townsend ferry will become a passenger-only operation in January when the Steilacoom II is pulled out of service for four weeks.

Exactly what kind of service will be offered remains an unanswered question. Three boating businesses are currently vying to serve the route. Those companies that have applied are Mystic Sea Charters out of Anacortes, Victoria Express out of Port Angeles and Puget Sound Express out of Port Townsend.

Hadley Greene, a spokesperson with Washington State Ferries, said officials are reviewing the proposals and a decision is expected to be made soon.

Puget Sound Express was the company that helped provide passenger-only service last winter after the ferry system pulled the Steel Electrics from service due to safety concerns. Mystic Sea Charters has been known to Coupeville residents over the past couple of years. That’s the company that offers gray whale sightseeing excursions during the spring from the Coupeville Wharf.

Passenger-only service is scheduled to start Jan. 5 when the Steilacoom II, which is owned by Pierce County, heads into drydock for maintenance and its annual inspection. The vessel is the only car ferry available that is capable of handling the difficult conditions at Keystone Harbor. In its absence, vehicles will have to use the Edmonds/Kingston ferry.

Meanwhile, construction is set to begin soon for a new ferry to serve the route. That $65 million ferry is scheduled to be finished by Todd Shipyards in the spring of 2010.

The pending change in service means commuters will have to change travel plans.

Pat Range, special education director for the Coupeville School District, said she will either ride the bus or catch a ride with friends when she gets off the ferry in Keystone.

Washington State Ferries will offer the same number of trips with its passenger-only boat, but it’s adjusting sailing times to better coincide with bus connections on both sides of Admiralty Inlet.

To help passengers board and depart the passenger-only ferry, plans are to install a barge at the ferry terminal to make it easier to get on and off the boat.

Last year, passengers often boarded and departed the ferry from a float near a boat launch operated by state parks. However, the severe weather conditions made walking on that float difficult.

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