Friday, November 23, 2007

Keystone - Pt. Townsend Ferry - What You Didn't See in the news

In late 2003 the Washington State Department of Transportation, specifically the Washington State Ferries department, held a public meeting in Coupeville, Washington to "Take Public Input" regarding the relocation of the Keystone (Whidbey Island) ferry terminal. It was clear to me at that meeting that this meeting had nothing to do with public input. It was intended to tell us what they were going to do, regardless of what we said, a "Dog and Pony Show" at best, but actually an insult to the members of the community in attendance.

The basics are as follows: The hulls and engines of car ferries currently in use on this run are nearly eighty years old. The ferry harbor is shallow enough that the ferries cannot dock at extremely low tides. The ferries have difficulties handling the side currents across the mouth of the ferry harbor as the ferries do not have bow and stern thrusters. The ferries are also quite slow, making it a time consuming crossing limiting the amount of cars per hour that can be transported.

Since the carrying capacity is limited by the old ferries, the parking/holding area is not large enough to hold the traffic as it stacks up waiting for the next ferry to arrive.

The state's solution was to relocate the ferry dock a mile or so to the South on an unprotected and unsheltered section of beach and on the adjacent wetlands. The proposed location would wipe out one of the better and one of very few public fishing areas for late Summer and Fall salmon fishing. With a new ferry dock at the cost of many tens of millions of dollars, then larger ferries as used on other runs could be used. The larger ferries need deeper water, however, and by the state's own data, a good number of runs every year would have to be canceled due to low tides.

At the time of that meeting I was a member of the Federally created Island County Marine Resources Committee. A number of members from that committee and I attended the meeting. Here are excerpts from two emails I sent out regarding the state's proposal presented at that meeting:

It sounds like they have already made their minds up, but after talking to some folks that know a lot about ferries and similar craft, they could solve all of their problems with a more modern ferry design, possibly a catamaran type hull. It could be faster, provide a more stable ride in rough water, draw less water, and carry more cars. It would probably be more fuel efficient, and could easily handle the currents with the use of bow and stern thrusters. The boat could even be built right here in Island county. No rocket science required, just proven stuff. I'm sure they don't want to hear about it, however.
And this:

Prior to the last meeting last Fall (2003) in Coupeville put on by WSF/WSDOT regarding the relocation of the Keystone ferry terminal, I contacted Matt Nichols, head of Nichols Brothers Boats in Freeland. Here's what I found out:

It is possible using existing technology to built a car ferry that could carry more cars, be more fuel efficient, travel faster, and draw less water than the current vessels used on the Keystone run, easily handle the currents at the entrance to the lagoon with bow and stern thrusters, and use the EXISTING dock.

When I presented this information at their meeting, their only response was to suggest that Nichols Brothers didn't know anything about building ferries that size. They did not refute the facts regarding the ferry design.

Why not put the ferry requirements out to bid and see what the bidding boat yards come up with, prior to pounding millions of dollars into the sand?
I sent this information to some of the local congress-critters, and they also realized that we don't need a new ferry terminal, we just need a few new boats. In fact, a catamaran design would probably be just the right solution, shallow draft, good rough water capabilities, and fuel efficient. The proposal to build the new terminal was shelved, but no action was taken on replacing the old ferries.

In my opinion, the people of Whidbey Island are now being deliberately punished since we didn't support the ferry dock boondoggle the state had proposed. I suspect they figure if it gets bad enough, eventually we will cave in and support the unnecessary new terminal.

Since 2003, an offer was made by a local shipyard to design, build, and lease new ferries to the state to solve the problem. Their offer was turned down. The current ferries have had major refurbishing, and only the engines and the hull itself remain from the original construction. Everything else is much newer and still in good condition. It was suggested that a new hull and power plants could be put under the current superstructure at a huge savings over building a completely new boat from scratch. That idea was also turned down.

The best solution would have been to draw up some specifications and put it out for bid to find out what it would cost, and if it was possible to build new boats to solve the problem. That also was not done.

The state clearly did not want to solve the problem, they wanted a new ferry terminal, and if they couldn't have what they wanted, they'd pack up their marbles and go home.

Now the ferry transportation is shut down indefinitely between Whidbey Island and Port Townsend. Next week they plan to start up passenger only ferry service on that run, using, guess what, a catamaran passenger ferry built by Nichols Brothers Boat Builders right here on Whidbey Island.

In the current controversy I haven't heard anything so far about the new terminal they wanted, but just wait, I bet it gets brought up soon.

An I upset over this? You bet I am! I use that ferry regularly to get to clients, camping, fishing, and shooting matches. This problem could have, and SHOULD have been resolved years ago.


At Friday, November 23, 2007 5:25:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey MrC.,
I'm with ya on that! They just wanna blow the taxpayers $$$ to further entrench themselves in the Beauracracy! I also wonder at how much the Transportation Bills FAILURE at the hands of the taxpayer had influenced them!

At Saturday, November 24, 2007 3:21:00 PM, Blogger The Conservative UAW Guy said...

You better watch your step Mr. C, or they're going to be landing those new ferries in your spruce and plum trees!!

Sorry. That was uncalled for...

Honestly, I hope all this c**p is resolved soon, and resolved your way.

Good luck.
Glad keewee is back, too!

At Monday, November 26, 2007 5:59:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who stands to gain if a new terminal is built, or more bluntly, who is paying off the this board to get the construction contract?

Follow the money - it almost always the money and when it isn't the money it is hubris.


At Wednesday, December 26, 2007 8:00:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you been following the coverage of the ferry debacle in The Whidbey Examiner?

The Port Townsend Leader is also doing a lot of stories about it. ( Looks like PT is going to lobby to get their own permanent ferry to Seattle! I bet WSF is thinking "great, then we can do away with that stupid Keystone run for good!"

At Thursday, April 17, 2008 4:50:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

B.C. spent a fortune on light weight cat car ferries. These
expensive ships brought down a
Govt. and almost bankrupt B.C. Ferries! The cats provided a large
wash and their high speed was
fuel inefficient. The Hawaii
experience with cats is not that
successful either.
Perhaps the future is in fuel cell
technology for shipping but a long
lag time before practical worldwide! Ferry travel is expensive.

At Thursday, April 17, 2008 8:49:00 AM, Blogger Mr. Completely said...

In my opinion the design for this run should be of the catamaran style to get the shallow draft, but not a high speed cat as such. A hull design with a hull speed of perhaps 15kts. That would make a huge difference in both fuel burn and wake. On the Keystone run wake shouldn't be much of an issue, though as it's all open water....

..... Mr. C.


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