EDITORIAL: Public required in Keystone study

The Washington State Department of Transportation should make an extraordinary effort to include the public’s concerns as it compiles its environmental review of the proposal to relocate the Keystone ferry dock.

As we reported Sept. 20, the state has already finished a preliminary feasibility study for the project, and is now embarking on the lengthier, much more detailed, environmental study.

Some Whidbey Island environmentalists were caught by surprise when the feasibility study was released without much public input. Whidbey Environmental Action Network, for example, has complained about the lack of opportunities to comment on the feasibility study before its release.

Moving the Keystone ferry dock makes perfect sense to an engineer, no doubt. The man-made harbor is too shallow, forcing the cancellation of numerous runs to Port Townsend every year, and it precludes the use of larger vessels that are used on other routes. It’s a waste of money and a scheduling headache to keep two small, antiquated ferries operating for a single route.

But to a Whidbey Islander concerned about the environment, the thought of moving the Keystone dock can produce some nightmarish scenarios. The precious Crockett Lake wetlands could be negatively affected, a possibility which has already alarmed Whidbey Audubon Society. And the largely undeveloped Keystone Spit could be eroded by a new dock and associated facilities.

There is concern on the island that the project could be steamrolled through the permitting process. Already, the state had budgeted $53.7 million for the new Keystone terminal in the 2005-2007 budget. This suggests the project is a top priority.

But state officials should not get in too much of a hurry, or they’ll risk losing the crucial support of local residents and governments for the project. It might be a difficult project to stop, but it could certainly be tied up for years in appeals to the Growth Management Hearings Board and state courts.

The only way to expedite the project is to closely consult with local governments and environmental organizations from the earliest phases of the environmental study. Hold public meetings and study sessions, and allow early public review of each element of the study. Produce a study all can agree on before hand, rather than one that will be fought over for years after it’s finally unveiled to the public.

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