Citizens’ ferry idea shot down

Authorities are saying a citizens’ plan to help improve ferry service on the Port Townsend to Keystone route won’t work.

The group, “Citizens Write Plan C,” came up with the idea of modifying two Evergreen State ferries for use on the Whidbey route across Admiralty Inlet. The ferries, the Klahowya and the Tillicum, would be equipped with high-performance rudders and steering gear the proponents argue would make the vessels able to navigate the difficult entry into Keystone Harbor.

Marta Coursey, spokesperson for Washington State Ferries, said the two Evergreen State class vessels, which hold 87 vehicles and are approximately 50-years-old, wouldn’t be able to navigate through Keystone Harbor even with the changes.

“They don’t have the power to maneuver,” Coursey said, adding in a Thursday interview that officials hadn’t seen a copy of the citizens’ Plan C.

The ferry system examined the possibility of modifying the Evergreen State vessels in 2007. That study found that the vessels were underpowered and it would be too expensive to change power plants. Coursey didn’t have a dollar amount on the cost needed to update the boats.

Service on the Keystone ferry route has been limited since November of 2007, when officials retired the ancient Steel Electrics, which were the only four vessels in the ferry fleet capable of navigating the swift currents of Admiralty Inlet and the shallow Keystone Harbor. Currently the route is being served by the Pierce County-owned Steilacoom II. The Island Home, the permanent replacement for the route, isn’t scheduled to enter service until summer 2010.

The Citizen’s Group, based on the Kitsap Peninsula, argues that using the Klahowya and the Tillicum would mean a second Island Home wouldn’t have to be built and the money could be used to build larger ferries.

“Under their plan, they do not take care of Whidbey Island,” said State Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, who is chair of the Senate Transportation Committee. “We don’t want any more old boats on Whidbey Island.”

Haugen reviewed the documents the group provided and she had one question about Citizen’s Plan C: “How would you pay for it?”

“It’s one thing to put up plans. It’s another thing to pay for them,” Haugen said.

The citizen group formed after a public outcry surrounding drafts of Washington State Ferries’ long-range plan. The system’s plan offered two options, one which basically maintains current service but had a significant budget shortfall, and another which made major cutbacks.

Citizens’ Plan C, which was presented to the state House and Senate Thursday, advocates a focus on building ferries rather than terminals, capping ferry fares and directing marketing toward tourists.

Haugen said the Senate is scheduled to present its draft budget Tuesday.

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