Potential loss of Port Townsend-Coupeville ferry route prompts quick reaction from Jefferson County leaders

Posted 10/7/20

Local leaders are mounting a quick defense to prevent possible reductions to ferry service on the Port Townsend-Coupeville route.

Officials with the Washington State Department of Transportation …

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Potential loss of Port Townsend-Coupeville ferry route prompts quick reaction from Jefferson County leaders

Posted

Local leaders are mounting a quick defense to prevent possible reductions to ferry service on the Port Townsend-Coupeville route.

Officials with the Washington State Department of Transportation have been considering cutbacks to bridge a revenue shortfall caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

WSDOT officials have been reviewing potential expenditure adjustments for months, and preliminary talks in the department's Ferries Division have focused on making more than $63 million in cuts.

Those changes center on reductions in service, and alternatives under consideration include dropping down to one-boat service on the Port Townsend run and other routes; eliminating late night/early morning sailings; discontinuing service to Sidney, British Columbia; and reducing administrative costs.

A second-tier alternative, and one that has Jefferson County officials especially alarmed, is the suggestion to eliminate the Port Townsend-Coupeville route entirely, with a second boat being added to the Bainbridge-Seattle or Kingston-Edmonds runs.

Removing the second ferry from the Port Townsend-Coupeville route and eliminating the crew needed for the vessels is expected to save the state $2.7 million.

Shutting down the route completely is estimated to cut costs by $13.9 million.

Local leaders have been talking about marshaling forces to highlight the impact to Jefferson County if the Port Townsend route is reduced or shut down.

"I'm anticipating this will be a significant community conversation," said Eron Berg, executive director of the Port of the Port Townsend.

"That vital linkage to the other side would seem to not only impact Main Street, but we believe it would impact our boatyard operations as well," he added. 

Gov. Jay Inslee's office is currently looking at revenue forecasts and how that shortfall will impact the 2021-2023 budget.

Jefferson County governments are joining together to fund a $10,000 WSF Ferry Economic Impact Study to give to the governor before he presents his proposed budget to the Legislature for the 2021 Session.

The Port of Port Townsend is taking the lead, and has hired economist Eric Hovee to study the potential economic impacts to Jefferson County on both tourism and employment-commute related impacts.

The analysis will consider a 50 percent reduction in sailings, and a complete shutdown, of the Port Townsend-Coupeville and Kingston-Edmonds ferry routes. 

Hovee's firm, E.D. Hovee & Company, has done similar studies in the past, including an economic analysis that looked at the potential ramifications of shutting down the Anacortes-Sidney, B.C. ferry route in 2007.

Berg said he expects a robust attempt to keep the link between the Olympic Peninsula and Whidbey Island intact.

"I've got to imagine there will be a concerted and shared effort to be sure we maintain our protection of the state highway system, which in our case includes the Washington State Ferries," Berg said.

The study is expected to be finished in approximately 45 days, according to the proposal submitted by Hovee to the Port on Oct. 2.

Jefferson County Administrator Philip Morley told county commissioners at their meeting Monday that the county hopes to set up a briefing on the issue with representatives from Port Townsend, Jefferson County Public Utility District 1, and the Port of Port Townsend.

The potential isolation of the peninsula prompted Morley to recall the significant issues faced by the county when the Hood Canal Bridge sank in 1979, cutting off access to Kitsap County, and more recently, when WSF's Steel Electric ferries were pulled from service on the Port Townsend route.

Sailings of the Steel Electric ferries were shut down abruptly in November 2007 due to damage to the hulls of the vessels, but this time, the potential reduction of service on the Port Townsend route isn't coming out of the blue.

"This is perhaps a little less precipitous in that we have some advance notice that something would happen," Morley told commissioners.

"But the impacts could be severe and significant," he added.

County Commissioner David Sullivan agreed.

"It is the connection we have with the northern part of the state," Sullivan said.

Commissioners also noted they would begin reaching out to elected officials in Coupeville and Island County for support of the ferry route.

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Tom Thiersch

To clarify, "a complete shutdown, of the ... Kingston-Edmonds ferry route" is *not* being considered, only possible reductions in service levels. The Port Townsend-Coupeville is, however, at risk.

Thursday, October 8
Forest Shomer

I rode on Wednesday without knowledge of this breaking story, to and from contract work on the mainland side. Even though I rode at off-peak hours, both runs were near-capacity. And that's during Covid austerity.

"Ferries Are Marine Highways." That is more than a slogan--quite literally, this ferry crossing IS part of State Route 20.

Thursday, October 8
Kiwi

This will be a disaster for Edensaw if the Ferry shuts down.

We have 5 to 6 delivery trucks using the ferry every week for deliveries to Whidbey Island, Anarcortes, Monu Vernon all the way North to Bellingham and the USA/Canadian border and the San Juan’s.

We also have staff members who commute from North to Port Townsend.

For Edensaw and many others this is an essential ferry crossing that allows our business to serve our many customers North of us.

Save this ferry route

Friday, October 9