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Kingston foot ferries by 2010?

KINGSTON — As funding trickles in, Kingston's passenger ferry could be transporting commuters to Seattle as soon as spring of 2010.

The Port of Kingston has already received a $3.5 million dollar federal transportation grant for the project and last fall acquired property which will serve as the terminal.

The $3.5 million is earmarked for start-up capital expenditures, and money is needed for operational expenses: including fuel, ticketing services and wages.

Recently the Port received $150,000 for just such operational expenses.

King County has a ferry fund for passenger services, which is completely independent of Washington State Ferries, and it is from this fund, that Rep. Christine Rolfes (D — Bainbridge) helped secure the $150,000 for Kingston's passenger ferry service.

"We really do appreciate it," said Port of Kingston Commissioner Pete DeBoer. "Within a year from now, Kingston could have a passenger ferry to Seattle for commuters. But we still need more."

Approximately $800,000 is still needed.

Port commissioners asked the Legislature for a little less than $1 million to cover four years of operational expenses, DeBoer said. The funding has yet to be granted. In the meantime, commissioners are scouring for other sources.

"If we could just know we have $400,000 in the bank and the ability to get $400,000 over the next three to four years we could get things going," DeBoer said. "We're looking at every funding source we can find."

DeBoer said commissioners will be having conversations with officials in King and Jefferson counties to discuss the possibility of partnerships.

He did assure the port is not interested in raising taxes for those who live within the Port District for operational funding.

"The port district is very small and for the port to take those taxpayers money to subsidize a far more regional system is not what this port commission ever intends to do," DeBoer said. "If there ever is a tax it would have to be a lot more regional."

The private company, Aqua Express, owned and operated a passenger-only ferry for six months in 2005. Service was discontinued because the service wasn't profitable. Some 144 passengers per day rode the ferry, according to information from a January interview with former Kingston Port Manager Mike Bookey, who passed away March 15. At the time Bookey said upward of 400 passengers per day would be needed for the service to be self-sustainable.

The port is still searching for Bookey's replacement.

Instead of hiring a port manager, DeBoer said the commissioners are looking for a harbor master who will focus primarily on the port.

As of Monday, port commissioners had 68 resumes from applicants hailing from Florida to Alaska and several "well-qualified" locals.

They hope to have a finalist by the end of May.

Once the passenger-only ferry service is under way, DeBoer said the port will probably create another position to oversee the ferry as well as the community outside the port.

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