Port Townsend eyes fast ferry to Seattle; $1 million sought from U.S. Senate

By Jeff Chew
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND -- The Port of Port Townsend hopes to acquire the Chilkat Express, one of the fastest passenger vessels in U.S. waters, "if all the stars line up," Deputy Director Jim Pivarnik said Wednesday.

"It's our vision to bring a boat into Point Hudson," he said.

Such a ferry would attract passengers from Seattle who could then connect to tours to wineries, restaurants or other sights in and around Port Townsend before taking them back to the Emerald City, he said.

Pivarnik briefly detailed the port's passenger ferry position during a Port Townsend Main Street Merchants Breakfast meeting on transportation proposals in Port Townsend.

P.S. Express, which operates Point Hudson to San Juan Island whale-watching tours and is owned by Pete and Sherry Hanke, is consulting with the port on a possible acquisition that Pivarnik said is predicated on the port securing a $1 million U.S. Senate transportation subcommittee appropriation with the help of Sen. Patty Murray, D-Freeland.

The Chilkat Express is a passenger ferry owned by a touring business in Alaska that is capable of cruising at 43 knots fully loaded.

It would be capable of sailing to Seattle in 40 minutes.

Fuel consumption at cruising speed is 120 gallons per hour.

The Chilkat Express has been out of service for a year and Pivarnik said the owners want $700,000 for it.

That's too high a price, he said, and the port believes the 9-year-old boat built in Bellingham is actually worth about $400,000.

The Chilkat Express is a hydrofoil-assisted jet catamaran design that has been developed by the New Zealand-based company Technicraft Design. It was fabricated under a license by All American Marine in Bellingham for the operator, Chilkat Cruises & Tours.

Securing the federal funding is a matter of support, Pivarnik said, and he said the port has seen help in the way of letters from Port Townsend City Manager David Timmons and Stan Cummings, executive director of the Northwest Maritime Center.

Call to action

"The whole thing is, it's a call to action to the community," the port official said, urging residents to send letters of support to Murray at her office, 173 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C., 20510-4701.

Pivarnik hopes to win over those who oppose passenger ferry service to Port Townsend because they fear gentrification of the historic seaport town.

The port's $1 million passenger ferry funding appropriation request is before the Senate Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies.

A decision is expected by October.

"If all the stars line up we could be operating by the first of the year," he said.

Mayor Michelle Sandoval, who attended the Main Street event, said the port, city and others should look at all Senate funding requests for 2011, "asking for support of Port Townsend overall."

The city also has appropriation requests through Murray's office before the same subcommittee for a Port Townsend Library expansion project, the development of Howard Street off upper Sims Way, and additional downtown streetscape work.

Pivarnik agreed with Sandoval who called for a "community conversation" on the ferry funding and helping Port Townsend altogether.

"It's a vote for Port Townsend in general," the mayor said.

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Port Townsend-Jefferson County Editor Jeff Chew can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at jeff.chew@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: April 29. 2010 12:12AM
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