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SoundRunner committee: restart passenger ferry with more port money

The Spirit of Kingston motors for Seattle last fall. - Brad Camp/File Photo
The Spirit of Kingston motors for Seattle last fall.
— image credit: Brad Camp/File Photo

KINGSTON —Port of Kingston commissioners are debating whether to dip into the port's savings to relaunch its passenger ferry service this spring.

An advisory committee told commissioners Monday night the service could eventually be profitable but will need up to $250,000 per year from the port while it builds ridership over the next four years. The committee recommended the service to Seattle’s Colman Dock resume as early as April 18.

The SoundRunner passenger ferry ran from Oct. 18 to Nov. 18 last year before it was suspended because of breakdowns and cancellations from bad weather. The ferry accommodated about 30 passengers a day, according to the port.

Commissioner Marc Bissonnette said restarting the service with more port money would be controversial. The port had previously paid for only the ferry manager's salary – roughly $70,000. Grants covered the rest of the project.

"There is opposition to this outside this room, I can tell you that right now," Bissonnette said during the Monday meeting at the Kingston Cove Yacht Club. "I go to the post office and I hear it."

Commission Chairman Pete DeBoer supports ferry service resuming. Bissonnette said he will need some time to consider his decision. Commissioner Tom Coultas is pushing for the port to survey the roughly 3,000 property owners in the port's district to gauge their opinion on subsidizing SoundRunner. While property taxes are a relatively small portion of the port's revenue, Coultas said the port built its savings by investing taxpayer money. Taxpayers in the district should have a say in how the savings are spent, he said.

"I don't want the loud minority to supersede the silent majority," he said.

It's unclear when the commission will make its decision.

DeBoer said the commissioners will discuss whether to relaunch SoundRunner by e-mail through the port's attorney, because both Bissonnette and Coultas are traveling in the next week. DeBoer said he will give direction to the advisory committee once they have a consensus.

After more than a month of studying the service, the 10-member volunteer committee determined that SoundRunner could not generate enough money through ticket sales, grants and leases to survive without a subsidy from the port.

Stressing that real numbers won't be available until several months after the service starts, the committee found SoundRunner would lose about $187,000 in 2011 if service resumed in April. It would lose another $337,000 in 2012 – its first full year of operation. The ferry could turn a $3,000 profit in 2014, the committee found, with the projected number of daily riders rising to more than 300.

SoundRunner has about $300,000 in grant money remaining. The port could lose some of that money if the service doesn't restart by June, committee Chairman Jerry Kirschner said.

The committee advised commissioners to restart SoundRunner with just one morning and one afternoon sailing to Seattle. The service launched with two morning and afternoon sailings. The committee suggested a roundtrip fare of $13.50 for riders traveling from Kingston and a $7 fare for travelers departing from Seattle.

A full-time crew of four — ferry manager, operations manager, engineer and office manager – was suggested, along with a grant writer.

The committee recommended commissioners begin hiring immediately to prepare for the April 18 start date.

"It is aggressive, but there is an advantage to getting the boats moving as quickly as we can," Kirschner said.

While commissioners debate the relaunch, the roughly 40 attendees at the meeting seemed largely in favor of the proposal.

Among the crowd was Ron Panzero, a new Kingston resident marine operations and maintenance manager for West Seattle Water Taxi.

Panzero said he was impressed by the committee's research and hoped SoundRunner was successful. He plans to commute to Seattle.

"It's a good thing for me and it's a good thing for Puget Sound," Panzero said. "You guys have a good thing here, I would encourage you not to let go."

The Passenger Only Ferry Advisory Committee is gathering public input through a questionnaire, which is available at www.portofkingston.org or at the port office.

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