For more than three years, Port Townsend put a lot of time and money into a plan to christen a passenger-only ferry to Seattle. In 2010, the city was awarded a $1.3 million federal grant, and—for a while, anyway—hope sprang eternal that perhaps it might be possible for the city to build its own boat capable of carrying 49 passengers and making the scenic run to Seattle in 70 minutes.
But financial realities proved to be a cruel mistress. The plan simply didn't pencil out.
"We had two potential operators look at it, and they didn't see how they could do it without losing their shirts," Larry Crockett, executive director of the Port of Port Townsend, told The Daily Weekly.
Two key factors doomed the walk-on ferry: First, it was going to cost a lot more than $1.3 million to build a suitable boat. Crockett figures the price tag was closer to $2.5 million. And second, to make a successful go of it and realize even a minimal profit, it would require at least two sailings to Seattle per day, with each averaging about 39 passengers. "We estimated we would get only half of that. I mean, we only have 9,000 people here, and there's just 26,000 in Jefferson County," said Crockett.
The Port, however, did consider acquiring the Spirit of Kingston, which hasn't been in use since Kingston passenger service came to an end in September. The Spirit, which currently languishes in the Kingston Marina, carried 149 passengers—about one-third of what the Port determined to be the optimum passenger load—and was not considered fuel-efficient. So after deliberation, the Port Commission recently decided to throw in the towel, voting 3-0 to give up the passenger-only ferry and return the federal grant.
"This is not to say we won't try again in the future," said Crockett. "But now is not the time to pursue this any further." Crockett added that most people in the community "think we made the right decision."
Still, there is disappointment among the city's business leaders. "We don't want to lose this energy," Heather Dudley Nollette, president of a local business-advocacy group, told the Peninsula Daily News. "We should come up with solutions to help bring visitors to Port Townsend so they can come here and enjoy what we've created."