WSF settles class action suit, agrees to pay $4.5 million

The state has agreed to pay Rich Passage property owners nearly $4.5 million, settling a class-action lawsuit over shoreline damage caused by the passenger-only ferries Chinook and Snohomish.

The settlement — which brings dismissal of all claims in the suit, but does not preclude future legal action — compensates property owners for beach erosion and damage to bulkheads and other shoreline structures.

It also allows for continued passenger-ferry service through the narrow passage, at a slower speed of 16 knots.

The settlement was announced by Washington State Ferries Tuesday, April 2, and was hailed by shoreline owners.

“We’re absolutely thrilled,” said Bill Cairns of Bainbridge Island, a plaintiff in the suit.

“We’re certainly happy it’s over,” said plaintiff Doug Waddell of Port Orchard.

The lawsuit was brought by 115 property owners, including 20 from the Manchester area and many Port Orchard Bay property owners.

Cairns said the settlement brings the parties “back where we started,” with the state acknowledging its responsibility for ferry wake impacts. Twice during the 1980s, he said, the WSF slowed its vessels voluntarily after complaints of shoreline damage.

The Chinook began service on the Bremerton-Seattle run in spring 1998 to considerable fanfare, hailed for its higher speed and shorter crossing time. Cruising at 34 knots, the vessel could make it to Seattle in half the time of the lumbering auto ferries on the Bremerton run.

But property owners on both sides of the passage soon began complaining of beach erosion.

Residents filed the lawsuit in March 1999, and four months later a court injunction slowed the boats. The injunction was overturned by the state Supreme Court in spring 2000 and the boats speeded up again, but a scientific study completed last summer determined the vessels were among several factors contributing to shoreline damage.

Elizabeth Williams of the Port Orchard Independent contributed to this report.

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