Ferries asks for comments on Draft Long Range Plan | Guest column

By Jim Corenman

Chairman for San Juan County Ferry Advisory Committee

Washington State Ferries recently released their Draft Long Range Plan, which looks out to 2040. WSF gathered input from endless advisory meetings and the spring outreach events. The draft plan is now open for comment through Oct. 25, after which it will be completed and presented to the state legislature in January. We feel the draft addresses most of our needs, but not all. It is also an ambitious plan and will require support from the legislature to be successful.

It will surprise no one that the top priority from all the comments has been reliability, and this is the key focus for the draft plan: Expand the fleet and focus on maintenance. The current (2009) plan specifies a total of 22 vessels with only three spares: two in the rotation to cover maintenance needs and one for unplanned mishaps.

We’ve had our share of ferry mishaps, as have most routes. Inadequate maintenance budgets are only part of the problem: WSF can’t even spend what they have because there aren’t enough vessels to allow for required maintenance. We’ve seen the results.

So the plan focuses on new vessels, some as replacements for aging vessels and some as additional maintenance and standby relief vessels. Other priorities include seismic terminal refits, reduction of carbon emissions, expansion of the Lopez terminal, a long list of large and small items to improve the system’s reliability and resiliency.

The plan is only step one, the next critical step is funding. However the final plan turns out, it will be a big request for the legislature. To quote the plan (p.10): “The consequences of not investing in the system are dire, with vessels and other infrastructures continue to deteriorate without replacement, cuts to service, and a gradual shrinkage of the ferry system. WSF’s customers and ferry-served communities would suffer as a result.”

So what can we do to help? First, read the plan and decide if it makes sense and if you agree with the proposals. And if not, why not. Do we agree that reliability is the top priority that must be solved? What about growth? If population and tourism both increase, and ferry capacity doesn’t, what happens to the customer’s experience? What is a good balance?

To get a copy, go to the WSF Long Range Plan website at http://WSFLongRangePlan.com and find “Review the draft…”, and download a copy. It is long but searching for “San Juan” works well.

Help by submitting written comments. Either post them on the Long Range Plan website (click on “Submit Comments”), or by email to: WSFLongRangePlan@WSDOT.wa.gov, or write a letter and send it to: Washington State Ferries, Attn: Ray Deardorf, 2901 3rd Ave Suite 500, Seattle, WA 98121.

The next step, of course, is to support legislation that will make this a reality. It is not too early to reach out to Sen. Kevin Ranker, Rep. Jeff Morris, and the candidates for Kristine Lytton’s seat, Debra Lekanoff and Michael Petrish.