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Residents balk at WSF proposal

KINGSTON — In any relationship, personal or professional, trust is a basic facet necessary for people to work together successfully.

While many residents of the Little City by the Sea have relied on the Washington State Ferries system to move them across Puget Sound for years, many of them cited reasons Tuesday night for not buying into WSF’s plan to improve its customer service.

History has proven this mistrust, residents said, noting WSF promised passenger-only ferries in the 1990s but never came through. The quality of service on the ferries has been less than adequate, especially with the increase in fares, they added.

So it was no surprise during a standing room-only meeting June 21 at the Kingston Cove Yacht Club that residents were vehemently opposed to WSF purchasing the approximately 3-acre parcel it leases from the Port of Kingston for its Kingston-Edmonds terminal.

The ferry agency has been leasing the property, which includes the passenger and vehicle loading docks and terminal, from the port since 1952. The lease expired in 1999 and since then, the agency has been leasing the property on a month-to-month basis. Currently, WSF is paying $150,000 per year to the port.

While negotiations have been taking place between the two agencies since 1999, neither side has been able to agree on a contract. One major point of contention is that WSF would like to add food vendors to the property — something port commissioners are steadfast against for fear of hurting the existing locally-owned businesses.

A few months ago, WSF made it clear it wanted to cease negotiations and purchase the property. Port commissioners invited the state to speak about their plans with the community Tuesday night.

“The future of the ferry dock has been a big and important issue with the people of this town,” said Port Commissioner Chair Pete DeBoer.

WSF terminal engineering director Russell East said the goals of the agency in purchasing the property include controlling costs and helping strengthen WSF’s financial standing, improving its non-fare box revenue (i.e. food vendors) and becoming more integrated with the community.

“Our goal is to build the strongest system we can but not at the cost of the community,” East said.

He believes that if WSF pays top dollar for the property, it will help the port pay for other major capital investments.

East also dispelled rumors he has heard, including that WSF will “steamroll” the community with massive developments and chain retail shops. Both of those ideas are too big for Kingston, he said, adding that he envisions small establishments, like a latte stand and a hot dog stand. East also noted he has been approached by local vendors, such as the Kingston-based The Coffee Exchange and Poulsbo based-Catch-A-Buzz Espresso, which has a stand at the Southworth ferry terminal and on Miller Bay Road.

The idea that WSF wants to come and take business from the mom and pop shops is “quite contrary,” East said. “We want to work with the community.”

DeBoer kept his comments short and to the point when explaining the port’s perspective.

“We really hold the business community in our heart between the three of us,” he said of the port board, noting that the commissioners’ primary concern is the future use of the property and how it can impact downtown’s economy.

It can start with a latte stand and hot dog stand and evolve, he added. The port is also in the process of creating plans for redevelopment of its upland area and has been conducting soil samples on the property.

Residents in attendance shared many of the port’s sentiments.

Kingston resident Richard Osborn said he’s been waiting for WSF to come through with its promises, such as the passenger-only ferries, but has been continually disappointed.

“Now you want to buy a prime piece of property, yet you don’t provide a business plan,” he said, noting that the agency has failed to use standard business practices in the past. “Why try and come and take our prime piece of property and put up a latte stand and shift money from pocket A to pocket B?”

It is appropriate for WSF to continue to lease the property from the port because of the ferry’s poor management track record, Osborn said.

“I’m sorry, your record doesn’t deserve our trust,” Osborn said in closing as the audience applauded.

East said vendors are not yet lined up for the property and the primary goal of WSF is to strengthen service to its customers.

“Are you going to condemn the property or sign a lease?” demanded resident and business owner Tom Waggoner.

“We are not going to go there tonight,” East replied. His statement was followed by cries of protest from the crowd. “We have not had serious discussions with the port, that is not a fair question.”

Fair negotiations will take place behind closed doors when the goals of both agencies have been clarified, he added.

Others said they didn’t understand how having more food vendors would enhance riders’ experience when there is already a wide variety available within walking distance of the terminal property.

Tuesday night’s meeting was the first step in working toward an agreement, East said, and the next step is for the two agencies to sit down and start discussions.

WSF is still accepting comments from residents. They can do so by calling Joy Golden at (206) 515-3411 or email her at goldenj@wsdot.wa.gov.

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