WSF inks 20-year deal with Port of Kingston

KINGSTON — The Port of Kingston announced Thursday it has reached an agreement with the Washington State Ferry system for a 20-year lease that effectively began in 2000.

Negotiations between the two entities had become strained after ferry officials said about eight years ago they were considering purchasing the Kingston ferry dock outright as well as urbanizing it, suggestions which ran contrary to what the port wanted as far as developments to the site.

About five months ago, the WSF counselor approached the port’s attorney to solidify a new agreement — one that incorporates only a concessions cart at the ferry terminal, said Port of Kingston Commissioner Pete DeBoer.

“What we conceded was they can have a small portable cart on wheels to cater to people on the dock,” he said. “We’re happy with it, they’ve got bigger issues than the lease in Kingston to worry about now, what with the Port Townsend/Keystone run and the vessels and financial concerns.”

WSF has wrestled with mechanical issues on several of its ferries, the most recent of which shut down the Port Townsend/Keystone route Nov. 21 because four Steel Electric class vessels were a safety concern. WSF officials have also been struggling with communities and commuters directly impacted by fare increases. The increases themselves primarily stem from financial limitations caused when Initiative 695 cut transportation funding costs in 1999.

The state had made comments in the past of condemning part of the three acres the port owns in an effort to acquire it. At a public meeting held in June 2005, WSDOT officials said the agency wanted to purchase the dock and property to assist with ferry system costs, strengthen its finances and increase non-fare box revenue. The proposition had been opposed from day one by the port and other community and county groups. DeBoer said he thinks that all changed five months ago because of unrelated financial and route concerns plaguing WSF.

“I’m not sure exactly what did it, but five months ago their lawyer called our lawyer to begin talks again,” he said. “It takes bureaucratic time to run anything through the state. It is signed by (WSF Executive Director Mike Anderson) before leaving, so that’s good.”

WSF Attorney Tim McGuigan said it was around January or February when the ferry system began to feel it was reaching a compromise with the port. Several provisions were added into the lease contract regarding purchasing the land and the economic growth desired for the dock to uphold the Port of Kingston’s desires.

“The lease and a cover letter were sent to the port the day before yesterday,” he said Thursday. “We were able to insert provisions on that subject matter that was able to resolve this issue.”

DeBoer said many of WSF’s fiscal issues may have shifted the ferry system’s priorities, allowing it to reexamine the lease with the Port of Kingston and agree on suitable terms for all parties.

“We’re very pleased, they are great tenants,” he said. “I think they’ve got to run a ferry system, they’ve got more issues out there, and my thought is they focused on that a lot more... This is a major route that requires residents to drive hundreds of miles out of the way to get where they need to go if it’s not there.”

WSF has leased the dock and property from the Port of Kingston since 1952, and the long-term lease between the two entities expired in 1999, switching to a month-to-month agreement. The desire to purchase the property and to develop it entered into discussions in the late 1990s — something the port was strongly against.

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