Kitsap Transit gets approval to seek funds for passenger ferries

"Kitsap Transit is in the market for faster, lighter, lower-wake ferries.Kitsap Transit's Board of Commissioners Wednesday approved a resolution allowing the agency to seek $6.8 million in Federal Transit Administration funding for the purchase of two to four high-speed, low-wake, passenger-only ferries.The boats would be used primarily for a Navy passenger-only service through a public-private partnership - a resolution also approved by the board - but might also be used by the general public during weekends and evenings. The boats can hold 149 passengers each.The Navy would use the ferries to get sailors from Naval Station Everett to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard when the carrier USS Abraham Lincoln is in Bremerton for overhauls every two years. Since the carrier is homeported in Everett and the work takes place in Bremerton, sailors need a quick way to get to work during the six- to 10-month overhaul periods.Rich Passage residents could also benefit from the boats. What we're trying to do is to find a service that works through Rich Passage, said County Commissioner Charlotte Garrido. Garrido is the chairwoman of Kitsap Connections, the ferry-alternative group with roots in the fast-ferry injunction ruling. Bremerton Mayor Lynn Horton expressed concern that no time line has yet been established for the new ferry service. Due to budget cutbacks caused by Initiative 695, the Washington State Ferries might be forced to completely eliminate passenger-only ferry service to Bremerton. That makes creating a time table difficult, according to Kitsap Transit Executive Director Dick Hayes.Kitsap Connections has been researching the possibility of low-wake, passenger-only ferries for the Kitsap County region. We're looking for a long-term solution for ferry runs. We have a year in which to look for alternatives ... this is a real active way for us to do that, Garrido said.The nine-month period during which the Navy would use the fast, low-wake ferries would provide a trial period to see how the service impacts beaches.Buying the boats now could save money in the long-run, Hayes said. Bremerton runs could save $3,000 a day in fuel alone, he said. With Federal Transit Authority funding, another organization or agency could purchase the boats and Kitsap Transit could lease them, converting the grant into a year-to-year allocation, Hayes said. Tom Waggoner, a member of the Kingston Chamber of Commerce Ferry Commission, supported the resolution. This technology is the future of Kitsap County, he said. This program needs to move ahead."

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