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Ferry panel on the chopping block

The vehicle ferry Steilacoom II returned to service Thursday morning after spending nearly six weeks in drydock undergoing inspections mandated by the U.S. Coast Guard. The passenger-only Mystic Sea will move to the other side of the island where it will anchor in Coupeville and host gray whale tours. - Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times
The vehicle ferry Steilacoom II returned to service Thursday morning after spending nearly six weeks in drydock undergoing inspections mandated by the U.S. Coast Guard. The passenger-only Mystic Sea will move to the other side of the island where it will anchor in Coupeville and host gray whale tours.
— image credit: Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times

As part of an attempt to streamline state government, a local citizens’ committee dealing with ferry issues is on the chopping block.

The Ferry Advisory Committee is one of the 150 or so state boards and committees Gov. Chris Gregoire is hoping to cut from the state budget.

But she’ll have a fight on her hands. Legislators representing Whidbey Island hope the ferry committee will still remain in service.

State Rep. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, said that such committees are vital to providing citizen input.

“Any citizen advisory committee that has no fiscal impact should stay intact,” Bailey said Thursday afternoon.

District 10 Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, said it’s not a good time to cut a volunteer committee that provides some much-needed citizen input.

“This is a time we urgently need citizen input on which way the ferry system is heading,” Smith said.

Sentiments expressed by Bailey’s and Smith are similar to those of State Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee.

“I don’t think that it’s going to happen,” Haugen said of the governor’s proposal, adding that she’s asked that the ferry committee remain.

She admitted that the committee on Whidbey Island isn’t always as useful as it should be and she’d like to see any future committee reconstituted.

“It’s not as effective as it could be,” Haugen said. In fact, two of the five positions on the North Sound Ferry Advisory Committee are currently vacant.

Haugen said the committee should have representation from local governments and from commuters. It’s been difficult to find commuters to serve because they are often too busy.

One committee that has been fairly vocal is a grassroots, community group called the Ferry Community Partnership.

That group is holding a rally at the state capitol Wednesday, Feb. 18 beginning at 11:30 a.m. on the north steps in Olympia.

Partnership member Debbi Lester, who lives on Bainbridge Island, said the group started two years ago after criticism of the ferry system’s terminal plans.

The partnership is demonstrating at the capitol against both options of Washington State Ferries’ long-range plan. The group is against Plan A because it is too expensive and it is against Plan B because it makes too large of a reduction of necessary ferry service.

Organizers also want to present a petition with 8,000 signatures supporting the Group’s Plan C.

“I’m really pleased they’re coming down to meet with us,” Haugen said.

She pointed out that all of the information concerning the ferry system isn’t known yet.

In addition to the ferry system’s long range plan, there is also a consultant report requested by the joint transportation committee that is being finished. There is also a chance federal stimulus dollars may become available to help the ferry system.

Haugen said she supports building a second boat for the Port Townsend to Keystone ferry route and keeping the Anacortes to Sidney B.C. ferry run open. Only one boat has been ordered for Keystone and neither ferry system plan includes two boats on the route.

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