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Islanders will rally for ferry funding Feb. 18; signatures sought for online petition

Residents of the San Juans and Anacortes will rally Feb. 18 in Olympia to persuade legislators to preserve ferry funding.

They hope to go armed with vox populi, in the form of a petition.

The petition is online at www.petitiononline.com/mod_perl/signed.cgi?plancfcp&101.

Washington State Ferries is proposing two options for reducing expenses in the face of expected funding shortfalls. Plan A would continue the current level of service and eventually “upsize” certain routes, but would create $3.5 billion in debt by 2030. Plan B would reduce the fleet and cut back routes, including eliminating the Anacortes-to-Sidney route. That option would leave the agency $1.4 billion in the red. Both plans call for a fare increase of 2.5 percent, a fuel surcharge when gas prices rise, and a reservation system to be phased into all the ferry terminals over a period of 10 years.

WSF estimates that by canceling the Anacortes-to-Sidney run it would reduce its debt load by $9.4 million over a number of years. But state Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Mount Vernon, doubts that savings: Gov. Christine Gregoire proposes spending $11.7 million on an Enhanced Driver License program which would allow vetted Americans and Canadians more efficient border crossings.

In addition, implementing a reservation system — the goal is to reduce the back-up of cars waiting to buy tickets — would cost $12 million to implement, analysts say.

Robert deGavre, a member of the San Juan County Ferry Advisory Committee, said the term "eliminating the Anacortes-to-Sidney route" is misleading; what is proposed to be eliminated is a ferry serving the San Juan Islands.

"During the Winter Schedule, 100 percent of the capacity of the boat to be eliminated is dedicated to the San Juan Islands-Anacortes route and zero to Sidney," deGavre wrote in a letter to the editor.

"During the Spring and Fall Schedules, 80 percent of the capacity (spaces) of the boat to be eliminated is utilized by our islands and only 20 percent by Sidney. During the Summer Schedule, 25 percent is utilized by our islands.

"The proposal, if implemented, will severely disrupt truck and other commercial traffic to our islands in the early morning and will severely restrict our community’s ability to travel to the mainland for business, medical, educational, or other purposes."

County Councilman Howard Rosenfeld, Friday Harbor, said WSF will not save $9.4 million because the ferry removed from service here is going to be transferred down sound. "They want the boat because it gives WSF more flexibility," Rosenfeld said. "It puts off the need for a new boat for a while."

The full draft of the long-range plan is available at www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/planning/eshb2358.

San Juan County’s transportation planner, Shannon Wilbur, has prepared a brief summary of plans A and B which points out similarities and differences in the plans and highlights specific items which will affect San Juan County. That summary is available in PDF file format at www.sanjuanco.com/docs/news/FerryPlanReview_public.pdf.

WSF will provide a final plan to the state Legislature on Jan. 31. Copies of the draft plan are available at local libraries and at www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/planning/ESHB2358.

To submit a comment on the plan, e-mail wsfplanning@wsdot.wa.gov. Or write Washington State Ferries, Attn. Joy Goldenberg, 2901 Third Ave., Seattle, WA 98121.

County Council member Lovel Pratt, San Juan South, will represent San Juan County at a meeting Feb. 18 with Rep. Judy Clibborn, chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee.

1,470 jobs, $126 million in annual spending associated with ferry
SaveOurFerry.net, the Web site of the campaign to save the ferry, reports the following economic impacts of the Anacortes-San Juan Islands-Sidney ferry, crediting a study (PDF) by E.D. Hovee and Company, LLC:

— In 2006, about 131,600 passengers rode the Anacortes to Sidney, B.C. ferry. Excluding the 17 percent of riders within the inter-islands, fully 83 percent (109,000 net passengers) traveled the full distance.

— About 1,470 jobs with more than $30 million in annual payroll and nearly $126 million in annual spending are directly and indirectly associated with this ferry service within the Northern Puget Sound region (Island, San Juan, Skagit, Snohomish, and Whatcom counties.)

— The State of Washington receives $4.6 million a year in taxes related to the ferry run. Local jurisdictions collect $1.3 million in tax receipts annually. This equates to about $45 per rider.

"In addition to the fiscal implications, the ferry run over the years has had many cultural benefits as well," the Web site reported. "The sister city relationship maintained with Sidney has been fostered by the transportation linkage. As we approach an historic Olympic Games in 2010, the cultural connection with our neighbors is even more important."

And the Samish Indian Nation has contributed financially toward the campaign's lobby; Coast Salish peoples in the U.S. and Vancouver Island, B.C. have cultural and familial ties and depend on the Anacortes-to-Sidney run.

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