En route to Bremerton aboard a Washington State Ferry. Photo by Chris Kornelis.

In 2007, the state legislature gave Washington State Ferries a mandate: sell


WSF Staying on the Other Side of the Passenger-Only Business


En route to Bremerton aboard a Washington State Ferry. Photo by Chris Kornelis.

In 2007, the state legislature gave Washington State Ferries a mandate: sell your passenger-only ferries and get out of that business. Any day now that edict will be fulfilled, as WSF expects to complete a sale of the Chinook and Snohomish vessels to Golden Gate Bridge Highway & Transportation District in the Bay Area. But, even after WSF has rid itself of the 350-passenger vessels, it could be years before WSF is able to ween itself of passenger-only ferries in times of crisis.

WSF says it has spent $440,000 leasing passenger-only boats over the last year for a combined 34 days. After the agency leases passenger-only ferries to fill in on the Port Townsend run for three weeks at the beginning of 2009 when the Steilacoom II -- already on loan from Pierce County -- goes in for Coast Guard-mandated repairs, WSF will creep closer to spending as much on leasing passenger-only ferries as it would cost to rehab the boats they're selling. Combined, the mothballed vessels need around $1.1 million worth of work, according to WSF's “10-Year Passenger Strategy,” released in 2005, though the number is likely to be higher thanks to aging and inflation. The Snohomish was in service temporarily several times over the last year, including an impromptu route between downtown Seattle and Port Townsend during the holidays.

The nation's largest ferry system's been shopping for extra boats since it found itself without any backup vessels last year after Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond pulled the four aging steel-electric class boats from service the day before Thanksgiving. In December, Gov. Chris Gregoire said she hoped three new boats could be delivered within 14 months. 10 months later, WSF is accepting bids in its second attempt at securing a boat builder, and doesn't believe new boats could be delivered before spring and fall of 2010. Until then, any time one of their vessels is pulled for un-scheduled repairs -- as was the case earlier this month with the Walla Walla -- WSF will be looking outside its system for passenger-only backup boats to fill in. WSF chief David Moseley Moseley has said, the agency continues to lease passenger-only vessels because he can't find any available auto ferries to lease.

So, why isn't WSF spending money to fix the passenger-only ferries that they have rather than to lease boats from outside the system? WSF official answer has been the above-mentioned legislative mandate. Only the governor, according to WSF's legal team, could stay the sale. Mosely has not asked for the governor to intervene, and Gregoire does not intend to.

In a statement released to Seattle Weekly from the governor's office, spokeswoman Laura Lockard said, "The governor supports

WSDOT and Washington State Ferries leadership and is currently not considering interrupting the legislatively mandated process that is in motion to sell these ferries."

Rep. Sherry Appleton (D-Poulsbo), a member of the house transportation committee who voted in favor of the House Bill 2273, which put passenger-only ferries on course for a sale, believes Moseley should ask the governor to allow the boats to stay in the system. Currently in the midst of a re-election campaign, Appleton says she has not discussed this with Moseley or the governor.

"If I were the governor," she said, "that's what I'd do."

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