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Wave study puts brakes on fast ferries

Commuters who use the state's fast passenger only ferries should expect longer travel times beginning Monday, Oct. 1, when the craft will slow for the second time in two years.Next month's slowdown will affect a much smaller part of the Bremerton-Seattle passenger-only route. The Chinook and Snohomish will slow to 12 knots per hour from its usual 34 knots for a two-and-a-half mile stretch of the narrowest part of Rich Passage. The slowdown will start at about Waterman Point in South Kitsap and Point White on Bainbridge Island and end at about Manchester State Park in SK and Fort Ward State Park on Bainbridge. WSF spokeswoman Pat Patterson said the slower speeds will add about 10 minutes to the average one-way crossing time.The slowdown was recommended by a team of scientists who studied Rich Passage beaches over the last year on behalf of WSF. The scientists - the Rich Passage Wave Action Study Team - were commissioned after shoreline property owners from Bainbridge Island, South Kitsap and Bremerton filed a lawsuit claiming wakes from the fast ferries were responsible for increased erosion. The scientists spent a lot of time on the beaches themselves and conducted tests and made calculations over the last year during an entire cycle, if you will, Patterson said. On some beaches, there were no changes, while on others there were small changes observed. Scientists determined that beaches within the narrowest part of the passage experienced high enough levels of change to warrant a slowdown of the ferries.WSF officials said the voluntary passenger ferry slowdown is not an admission that the vessels alone caused erosion. The Rich Passage Wave Action Study Team found other causes, too.We're not saying the fast ferries are the sole factor, but in some circumstances are a contributing factor, said WSF acting director Terry McCarthy. It's the addition of fast ferries in locations where there are bulkheads, other vessels and natural elements such as a narrow passage.The Rich Passage property owners first obtained an injunction in Kitsap County Superior Court requiring the ferries to slow in 1999. The state Supreme Court later overturned that injunction, and the ferries resumed top speed through Rich Passage in May 2000.WSF expects to publish a revised passenger-only schedule by mid-September. Ferries employees currently are surveying commuters on how best to adjust the schedule.We will be out on the boats this week, said McCarthy. We have surveys in which we are laying out some options and we want to take input from the customers and input from Kitsap Transit as well, since a large portion of our riders are dependent on transit connections.

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