Sutton: Sidney run, domestic ferry are 'safe'

By Colleen Smith Armstrong
The Islands' Sounder

It was a busy day in our state Capitol.

More than 200 Washingtonians rallied in Olympia on Feb. 18 to speak out about the proposed options for future ferry service and present a petition with 8,000 signatures.

Of those 200, around a dozen were from San Juan County.

WSF has two plans on the table to meet its long-range needs, which includes $1.3 billion to $3.3 billion in new funding over the next 22 years to maintain the ferry system.

Plan A calls for the acquisition of 10 new vessels over the next 20 years and would make capital investments in land transit programs at selected terminals to encourage walk-on ferry ridership.

Plan B calls for the purchase of just five new vessels, the elimination of the Anacortes-to-Sidney ferry route, and removal of that boat from domestic service. It assumes that some of the reduction in capacity would be absorbed by passenger ferries, operated by local entities rather than the state.

The San Juan County Council officially rejected Plan B, as did thousands of ferry-riders across the state.

According to Ed Sutton, chairman of the San Juan County Ferry Advisory Committee, Plan B is off the docket and the Sidney run is safe, which means that the domestic capacity on the Chelan is preserved as well. The Transportation Commission has now presented a financial proposal that seeks to fund Plan A.

The bad news is that the Transportation Commission also recommends that fares be raised 6 percent every year for five years to close the operating budget deficit. There are additional proposals to add a fuel surcharge and a summer season “super surcharge.”

To pay for capital needs, the commission is suggesting reinstating the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax.

These recommendations will be put before legislators in early March. Sutton anticipates more discussion and public feedback, and a final decision to come in April.

Of the ferry meetings in Olympia last week, Sutton said, “I think we did really well. Both houses are spending more time on this issue than ever before. And our neighbors in Anacortes are more involved than ever before too.”

News recently came that Gov. Gregoire may cut the Ferry Advisory Committees, but Sutton is not worried.

“Let's get past this current issue and then deal with it."

Sutton thinks it is likely that if the committees are cut, a restructured advisory group will be formed, possibly with representatives from each county sharing ideas on the same committee.

Sutton will explain the ferry proposal more in depth at the Town Hall meeting on Feb. 25, 4-6 p.m., at the Eastsound Fire Station. The Town Hall meeting is hosted by County Council members Richard Fralick and Gene Knapp, and County Administrator Pete Rose.

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