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Kitsap Transit green-lights passenger-only ferry plan

A $4.2 million federal grant and about $800,000 in tax credit will help Kitsap Transit acquire two passenger-only ferries and make improvements on related facilities in Bremerton and Port Orchard.

At a special meeting Tuesday in the Norm Dicks Government Center, the Kitsap Transit Board of Commissioners voted 6-0 to approve Resolution 08-33, a fine-tuned version of Resolution 08-10 which authorized Kitsap Transit staff and counsel to implement a New Markets Tax Credits (NMTC) financing plan of about $6 million to purchase the ferries and make the improvements.

While South Kitsap Commissioner Jan Angel abstained, Bremerton Mayor Cary Bozeman, Port Orchard Mayor Lary Coppola, Poulsbo Mayor Kathryn Quade, Central Kitsap Commissioner Josh Brown and Bremerton City Councilman Will Maupin and Adam Brockus approved the resolution.

Bozeman called passenger-only ferry (POF) service "critical" to Kitsap County's economy and suggested the board "move forward" with the plan.

"If the ball gets dropped here, it will not get picked up," he said. "I think perseverance will get us there."

About $3.7 million will fund the construction of a "fast, low-wake, fuel-efficient" 149-passenger prototype vessel, which will be, and has been, the subject of economic and environmental impact studies.

Construction is set for September and the boat will hit the water around July 2009, when wake tests are scheduled to begin in Rich Passage.

Wake-wash has eroded portions of the shoreline, meaning the tests will determine how feasible running the prototype through the Rich Passage really is.

The boat would shuttle commuters between Bremerton and downtown Seattle.

An Environmental Impact Statement (ESI) will be issued after the tests, expected to be completed by June 2010, and if funding allows, Bremerton-Seattle POF service would resume.

No money is in place to operate the vessel after the tests, but Transit officials will apply next year for more NMTC credit to cover those costs and others.

The boat, too, could be used on the Bremerton-Port Orchard run or leased to King County.

"It's important for everybody to understand (that) this boat is tied to Bremerton and Port Orchard," Kitsap Transit Executive Director Richard Hayes said, explaining that it won't simply "disappear."

According to the resolution, an additional $541,000 will be used to purchase a used vessel to run on the existing Bremerton-Port Orchard POF route operated by Kitsap Transit.

Kitsap Transit also plans to spend $650,000 for passenger-only facility improvements in Bremerton, including a new "fendering" system and "bow loading" system, $152,000 to revamp existing Port Orchard foot ferry vessels or facilities, and $250,000 on a new fueling station in Port Orchard.

Brown said there is no correlation between funding for the project and taxpayer dollars that go toward buses.

"I want to make it very clear," he said, "bus money is not being used for this project. None of that money is being spent here."

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