Opinion

Central Kitsap residents help shape Bremerton ferry's future

By LYNSI BURTON

Staff writer

To Silverdale resident Ann Erickson, the Bremerton ferry is Kitsap’s means of survival.

It takes residents to their jobs and doctors appointments and allows east-of-the-Sound workers to earn the money to invest in Kitsap businesses and real estate.

“I have a love for the ferry system,” Erickson said. “I love encouraging people here to appreciate what they’ve got.”

It’s why she fights for the construction of new boats and lobbies legislators in Olympia for more ferry dollars as the chairwoman of the Bremerton Ferry Advisory Committee.

“We have to keep fighting for Bremerton,” she said.

The Bremerton Ferry Advisory Committee is seeking a frequent ferry rider to represent Central Kitsap-area passengers on the five-person board. The representatives act as liaisons to department heads at Washington State Ferries and state legislators, attending community forums and meeting with advisory committees from other ferry towns. Members are selected by Kitsap County commissioners.

The Bremerton advisory committee has a unique relationship with state ferry officials and lawmakers as a representative of the passengers, Erickson said.

“We address things that no one else brings to the table,” she said. “They know that we’re in touch with the taxpayers and what I’m trying to do us get more bang for the buck.”

Erickson became interested in ferry policy when I-695 was passed by voters in 1999, eliminating the ferry system’s revenues from the gas tax.

That gas tax was the main source of Washington State Ferries’ construction budget and provided 20 percent of the operations budget. As a result, passenger rates were steeply hiked and the Bremerton-Seattle foot ferry was eliminated.

“When I-695 came up, it hit me that people were not getting the right information,” Erickson said. “That’s when I decided to make it my job that people understand the value of the ferry system.”

East Bremerton resident Linda Houlton, who has served on the Bremerton Ferry Advisory Committee for about two years, said the group has had a positive influence.

One of the changes the board lobbied for was an additional afternoon ferry to provide service between what used to be a 12:30 and 3 p.m. gap, Houlton said. Now, there is a 1:30 sailing from Seattle and a 1:45 boat from Bremerton to help ease congestion — a change that Rep. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, said was spearheaded by the Bremerton group.

The Bremerton group, in particular, has been effective at showing the ferries aren’t just tourist attractions.

“They’re the very essence of our communities,” Rolfes said.

The committee’s top priority is to secure state dollars to build at least three 144-car ferries for Kitsap County, one of which would go to the Bremerton terminal.

“We have such an aging fleet that we’re just going to have to make sure that we get the funding,” Erickson said.

Washington State Ferries is currently constructing three 64-car ferries for the Port Townsend-Keystone and Point Defiance-Tahlequah routes, which will be finished one-by-one between this summer and and spring 2012. Whether or not the state can afford to build 144-car vessels for Kitsap depends on the amount of room for them in the state budget, said Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, who frequently meets with individuals from the region’s ferry advisory committees.

The “144s” are urgently needed to replace the aging fleet, he added.

“My personal frustration is that we are spending much too much money on the small boats,” Seaquist said. “We’re not going to get out of this recession until the ferry system is delivering everything it needs to.”

The total project budget for the three 64-car boats is more than $213 million, while more than $70 million has been spent since 2003 on planning and design for the 144-car ferries, according to information provided by Seaquist’s office.

The 2011 Legislature will determine whether the state will support the 144s, Rolfes said.

In the absence of gas tax dollars after I-695, the advisory committee is also working with legislators to develop a stable source of income, Erickson said. But for right now, nothing has yet been developed.

“We do not have a practical solution in view. We have to find one,” Seaquist said.

Seaquist said regional ferry advisory committees such as Bremerton’s have been instrumental in developing policy plans that have influenced the Legislature’s decisions. Last year, when it looked as though lawmakers would shrink the ferry service, advisory committee members drafted an alternative plan.

“We were able to increase some funding to make sure we were headed toward trying to build new boats,” Seaquist said.

Such developments are sometimes arduous, Houlton said, but she knows the committee is leaving its mark on ferry policy.

“I think it’s slow but I think there have been differences made because of us,” she said.

And that’s what keeps Erickson pushing forward.

“It’s worth every minute of it because we have the legislators and the governor paying attention to our ferry system now,” she said.

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The Bremerton Ferry Advisory Committee is seeking a new member.

For an application, contact Jan Koske at (360) 337-4650 or jkoske@co.kitsap.wa.us

Applications may be completed online at kitsapgov.com/volunteer/frmbrdapp.htm

Completed applications are due by 5 p.m. June 10

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