Sound Off: Gov. takes bum advice

By Bill Viertel

Below average and average leaders in any field of endeavor, whether in business or government, concentrate on the day-to-day tyranny of the urgent, reacting to crisis after crisis, and engaging in purely tactical activities.

Above average leaders are able to visualize and foresee future problems and needs, share their vision and bring others to that same level of awareness and understanding, strategize and plan solutions in advance, and marshal forces so that the future needs are met, problems are addressed, and solutions are implemented before the visualized crises arise.

Today’s complex issues and interconnected variables require above-average, even exceptional leaders. Otherwise we simply lurch from crisis to crisis, an approach that ends up costing far more upheaval and money than a carefully predetermined and executed plan. Nothing could illustrate the less effective approach of sub-par leaders than the debacle of the Keystone-Port Townsend ferry run.

These same leaders are now acting quite virtuous about having taken swift action to shut down a situation dangerous to public safety, when in fact their swift action is a knee-jerk response and comes about 20 years too late. Where have they been? They have been asleep at the switch, tending to the tyranny of the urgent, not getting out of their offices, not thinking and planning ahead, not ensuring that solutions are in place when needed. In other words, they have not been doing what we pay them to do. If we wanted government by crisis, we wouldn’t need representation; we could simply wait for the next manmade disaster and refer the problem to the specific state fix-it department to react with a patchwork Band-Aid. How ironic that the comedy routine most synonymous with this kind of frantic, chaotic, directionless, and unplanned way of conducting business is the iconic Keystone Cops.

It would be bad enough if the precipitous loss of the four unsafe Steel Electric boats capable of being used on the Keystone-Port Townsend ferry run was the whole story, but the errors in judgment that created this debacle continue unabated. There were several problems with this run: The aged boats, the frequent cancellations due to strong winds and low tides, and the long waits (sometimes three or more hours) and strandings due to woefully out-of-date capacity.

I live four minutes from Keystone, and I don’t dare go to the Olympic Peninsula for a full day with my car from April to October because I can’t be assured that I can get back. Sometimes the last three boats of the day are already spoken for by 4 p.m. with waiting cars relegated to an overflow holding area. Building new but small 50-car ferries that still have to use the Keystone Harbor solves only the first of the three problems. The only way to solve the cancellations and existing capacity issues is to build much larger boats and a new Keystone terminal outside and immediately east of Keystone Harbor.

Put the small boat ramp in the Keystone Harbor and use the current ferry parking lot for the small boat ramp parking. Move the ferry terminal and associated parking immediately adjacent to the east of the harbor where the boat ramp parking is now, jut it out into the water like the Clinton dock, and use pilings that can withstand the high currents and waves. Stay a quarter mile away from the nearest homes. To do anything else is a solution that leaves the same old problems, has zero longevity, and would be a complete waste of tens of millions of dollars.

A small number of locals are against larger ferries and moving the terminal and have exerted undue influence. Many of these people live near the present Keystone terminal, which predates their homes by many decades. For them to argue against a new terminal and larger boats is like someone building a home next to existing SeaTac Airport and then complaining about the jet noise or next to an existing national forest and then complaining about bears in their yard. Washington State Ferries is choosing to listen to these selfish people, and their plans for the run will leave this vital transportation link handicapped and inadequate from the moment they are completed and for decades to come.

Governor Gregoire did not create this disaster. The die was cast on this problem many years before she took office. The Legislature, WSDOT, and WSF are the culprits, allowing a vital transportation link to atrophy and die through negligence and neglect.

The governor is now getting bum advice from the so-called experts at WSF and WSDOT on what to do about it. If the plans for addressing this route’s deficiencies are not changed to address all these problems, some heads should roll and new blood with vision, courage, pragmatism, and fiscal responsibility should replace them.

We need a course change from shooting behind the duck to a solution that addresses the already-existing problems and that meets the public’s needs for decades into the future. An old folk song has a line that goes, “We want leaders but get gamblers instead.” Let’s not let sub-par leaders gamble with our present and future needs any longer. We need an all-out letter-writing campaign to the governor to show her that the advice she is receiving is at odds with the needs of the vast majority and with the facts and that she may need to change the players on the state team who refuse to see the reality of the situation.

Bill Viertel

lives in Coupeville.

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