Opinion

Anacortes/Sidney ferry is a vital economic resource that deserves state support | Guest Column

By Kevin Ranker
Senator-elect, 40th District

A recent study conducted by E.D. Hovee & Company found that ferries are vital to the economies of the communities they serve. The Sidney route is particularly important for tourist access to the northern Puget Sound region, including Skagit County.

According to the study, the Anacortes-Sidney route alone supports nearly $30 million in payroll and $126 million in annual spending. Even a partial elimination of ferry service on this route could threaten thousands of jobs in the five counties of the northern Puget Sound region and significantly reduce state and local revenues that are generated by related economic activity. Furthermore, the elimination of this run at this time could threaten a predicted large boost in tourism and related economic activity associated with the 2010 Olympics in British Columbia.

As a new member of the Senate Transportation Committee, I understand the Legislature’s responsibility to ensure our state provides the funding necessary to maintain a safe and efficient transportation system. We need to link our communities and support the free flow of commerce that our economy relies on.

And, as someone with first-hand knowledge of how important ferry runs are to the communities that rely on them, I fully recognize we must do everything we can to support the maritime highways that are essential to the economic, cultural and social vitality of the Puget Sound region and Washington state.

Our state faces revenue shortfalls that threaten a wide variety of public services funded by the state’s operating, transportation and capital budgets. We are also experiencing severe shortfalls in revenues that fund transportation projects. Ferry funding was gutted when the state’s Motor Vehicle Excise Tax was slashed. However, we must recognize that fares alone cannot keep up with the costs to run and maintain the ferries, let alone acquire new vessels for our aging ferry fleet. We must further recognize that the economic benefits of our ferries to the state economy are substantial and their loss would be felt statewide.

Although I understand the need to decrease expenses during these tough times, we must not make short-term cuts that negatively impact long-term benefits. We must not eliminate ferry service between Anacortes and Sidney, B.C. Fortunately, we are at an early stage in the decision-making process and I am hopeful that we will be able to protect this vital community resource.

Current law contains clear language that prevents the elimination of any ferry route without Legislative approval. It also states that service on a ferry route cannot be substantially reduced without public hearings. This ensures there will be considerable discussion on this subject at both the state and local levels before any decision is made.

We are on the first step of a long legislative process. It is my intention to do everything I can to maintain the current level of service on the Anacortes-Sidney ferry route and throughout the system.

— Senator-elect Kevin Ranker, D-San Juan Island, takes office noon Jan. 12. He will be a member of the Senate Transportation Committee and represent communities in San Juan, Skagit and Whatcom counties.

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