Port discusses foot ferries for Kingston

KINGSTON — New Port of Kingston Commissioner Pete DeBoer recently took part in his first executive decision — one that could help bring long-awaited passenger-only ferry service to the Little City by the Sea.

During a special port meeting Jan. 13, DeBoer met with his fellow commissioners to discuss the possible addition of foot ferry service from Kingston to Seattle.

The board has hired political consultant Barbara Kitchens to prepare information that will be presented to the Kitsap Transit Board of Commissioners on Jan. 20. Kitchens will be analyzing the port’s role in creating the transportation service from Kingston to Seattle.

Since Kitsap Transit’s countywide plan to establish foot ferries was knocked down by voters last fall, the agency is expected to consider allowing a private foot ferry company, Aqua Express, to provide temporary passenger-only services between Kitsap and Seattle.

“I think, at this time, it’s good for the port to have someone like that,” said Commissioner Marc Bissonnette.

Aqua Express executives have said they would like to have a Kingston-Seattle run established within six months.

Because of legislation passed during the 2003 session in Olympia, the state-regulated Washington Utility and Transportation Commission cannot approve Aqua Express’ application for ferry services unless the local transit authority, Kitsap Transit, approves it first.

Commissioners also discussed the port’s options for a temporary docking area while it establishes a more defined plan for a permanent loading dock for the ferries.

The board also debated several options based on the port’s Environmental Impact Statement for Passenger-Only Fast Ferries, a document that was developed for Washington State Ferries in 1999 when it was considering more POF services. These options included: an existing unused slip; docks within the Kingston Marina; and the existing fishing pier. Aqua Express officials have said they will provide a barge as a temporary loading dock but need a place to tie it up.

DeBoer said he was against having a ferry slip in the marina for several reasons, including security of the private boats, liability, ADA access, lack of guardrails and summertime boating traffic.

The port wouldn’t be allowed to use an unused slip adjacent to the ferry dock as it is property of Washington State Ferries.

“The only real viable spot (the port can offer) is at the end of the fishing pier,” DeBoer said.

But that options raises its own questions as well.

“I have concerns myself with the wake of wash when ferries come in,” Bissonnette said, noting that small ferries will have a rough time with the jumbo ferries’ wakes when they dock. He suggested arranging the foot ferry schedule so the WSF boats and smaller passenger-only boats would not dock at the same time in Kingston.

Another concern with the pier stems from possible environmental impact on eel grass that is located beneath the dock. From the EIS drawings, the existing patch of eel grass in 1999 was small, observed commissioner Tom Coultas, noting it could be gone by now.

However, DeBoer suggested having divers investigate the underwater environment to see what has changed since the 1999 EIS.

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