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Port on passenger-only ferry fact-finding mission

KINGSTON — With a $3.5 million Ferry Boat Discretionary Program grant coming down the federal pipeline, it seems as though dreams for a Kingston passenger-only ferry have again risen from the deep. And the Port of Kingston — which remains tightlipped because the official papers for the grant have not yet come through — is slowly treading its way through a fact-finding mission to gather as much information as possible to effectively get service running again.

POK commissioners and manager have been in contact with the Kingston Express Association, Kitsap Transit and Aqua Express to discuss what each organization has to offer. Aqua Express has also been providing background information on its own failed attempted to run a passenger-only ferry from Kingston to Seattle, which halted service Oct. 1, 2005 due to low ridership and funding.

“We have talked with the Kingston Express Association and Kitsap Transit, but it’s all very preliminary right now,” said Port of Kingston Manager Mike Bookey. “Basically we’re just trying to find out where everyone’s at. We’re definitely fact-finding right now.”

He said several of the groups have offered non-monetary assistance to the port, aiming to orient the organization with foot ferries. POK members will also meet with state and federal transportation officials in October to learn more about the grant and what it could mean for Kingston. The $3.5 million likely won’t come through until next summer, Bookey said.

“Not a lot has changed,” said POK Commissioner Pete DeBoer of action taken since last month’s port meeting. That was about the time the grant approval first came to light. “Commissioner (Marc) Bissonnette’s professional occupation is a captain on Victoria Clipper boats, so we’re kind of putting him in charge of this. We still haven’t received any paper with anything on it saying we’ve received the grant.”

The funding has been approved by the Washington State Department of Transportation and United States Department of Transportation, and has a few roadblocks to clear before documents are sent to the port. In the meantime, the KEA, Kitsap Transit and Aqua Express are all working with the port, in preparation for the day when the POK commissioners potentially ask for a business plan to run a passenger-only ferry.

“The Kingston Express Association had a board meeting this weekend, and the port manager and commissioner were there,” said KEA manager Nels Sultan. “It was mainly informational, and nothing new has come up... We expect that we will be a part of the process of submitting a proposal, and once submitted we hope they will pick the best one.”

Bookey said under state law, the Port of Kingston can run its own foot ferry service, another facet in the process of deciding who will operate the run if and when it gets started. The hope is the port will be able to determine how to ensure the ferry run succeeds in Kingston.

“We’ve had some preliminary contact and expressed our interest,” said Aqua Express spokesman Jim Boldt. “They’re doing their homework right now... They’re having to work through all of this.”

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