Opinion

SOUNDOFF: Public input welcome for Keystone terminal

As director/CEO of Washington State Ferries, I wanted to respond to your editorial of Oct. 1 concerning public involvement in the Keystone ferry terminal project. I absolutely agree that community involvement in the upcoming environmental review process is imperative.

Fears cited in your editorial that the project will be “steamrolled through the permitting process” are unfounded. We intend to undergo a thorough review of all options available to continue safe, reliable ferry service between Keystone and Port Townsend. Our intent is to find the best solution – for Whidbey Island residents, the environment, our passengers, and the taxpayers of Washington state.

The feasibility study (completed in August) and the upcoming environmental review process are necessary because the ferry system must replace the 75-year old Steel Electric vessels. Once those vessels are out of service, Keystone Harbor — as it is currently configured — will no longer be a functional ferry terminal. In order to continue service on that route, Washington State Ferries must either relocate the Keystone terminal to a site outside of the harbor, or reconfigure Keystone Harbor to accommodate larger vessels.

I would also like to take this opportunity to clarify the difference between a feasibility study and an environmental review. Feasibility studies are preliminary studies, conducted to gauge the viability of a project and identify any “fatal flaws.” (It is important to note that Washington State Ferries did hold two community meetings during the recently-completed feasibility study and also met with tribal representatives and agency staff to identify potential community, environmental and tribal concerns.) Assuming a project is found to be viable, the next step is a thorough environmental review process.

The purpose of the environmental review is to examine a range of alternatives, evaluate the potential impacts associated with each alternative and select a preferred alternative based on those studies.

Opportunities for mitigation are also identified during the environmental review process. In the case of this project, members of the community and representatives from environmental organizations, tribes and resource agencies have already expressed an interest in looking at Crockett Lake as a potential site for a mitigation project.

We expect an analysis of Crockett Lake – its history, current condition and potential alternatives for its restoration – to be a part of our environmental review for the Keystone ferry terminal project.

At Washington State Ferries we believe that meaningful public involvement is key to a successful environmental review process. Over the course of this process, Whidbey Island residents will be involved, consulted and kept informed via a wide variety of methods, including public meetings, mailings and e-mail and internet updates.

Keep in mind that Washington State Ferries has just begun the environmental review process. A comprehensive public involvement and community outreach plan is being developed now. We expect to have a draft timeline of the project ready to be mailed to the community within the next few weeks. In the meantime, anyone with questions or concerns on the project should contact Celia Schorr, our Public Education and Outreach Manager at (206) 515-3918, or schorrc@wsdot.wa.gov. You may also want to review the feasibility study, which is available on our website, at: http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/improvement_projects/

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We look forward to hearing from you and to working with you in the coming months and years.

Mike Thorne is director/CEO of Washington State Ferries.

Community Events, April 2014

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