Something’s afoot with foot ferry

KINGSTON — When the going gets tough, the tough go to Whidbey Island.

A group of about 20 Kitsap County and Kingston representatives headed for Freeland Friday morning on a foot ferry fact-finding mission.

At about 8 a.m. Friday, Kitsap County Commissioners Chris Endresen and Tim Botkin, Kingston Chamber of Commerce members, Kingston Port officials and business owners headed out from Kingston to Nichols Brothers Boatbuilders on Whidbey to take a look around.

The group wants to find out “what’s going to work for everybody,” said Kathleen Sutton, who helped organize the event.

They looked at the kinds of boats Nichols builds, asked how much it would cost to build a vessel and what it would take, theoretically, to get some kind of passenger only service started for this area.

“We’re trying to figure out what’s going on here,” said Tom Waggoner, one of the driving forces for the passenger only push. The group has “been talking to” Mosquito Fleet operators and Clipper Navigation about possibly operating the service, he said.

The crusade has had its share of rough waters since the 2000 passage of I-695, which dried up the much anticipated funding for the Kingston foot ferry.

For the past five years, members of the group have rallied for an expansion in passenger-only service including a Kingston Seattle run. Ferry supporters have taken their message to Olympia and found other courses of action.

Hope sprang up last year when the Clipper Navigation submitted its application to provide a catamaran service from Kingston. A few months later the idea sank because of expected opposition from the Inlandboatmans’ Union. Clipper withdrew its application.

Disappointed but not defeated, the group has rebounded. The details of the plan are not forthcoming, perhaps because they are not known. The Nichols Brothers Boatbuilders could be a key piece of the puzzle.

“It’s frustrating because they’ve built boats for California — Alameda and the San Francisco area, and they’re in our own backyard. We want to see what they got,” Waggoner said.

Matt Nichols, CEO and president of the Freeland-based company said they have built commuter vessels for Catalina Island, Alameda and Oakland, among others. In the past 17 years the company has built about 30 boats.

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