Port Townsend could lose Salish over budget woes, ferries chief admits
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Assistant Transportation Secretary David Moseley receives a framed copy of the Port Townsend Community Portrait -- taken in front of the MV Chetzemoka on the new ferry's christening day -- during the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Monday from Main Street Executive Director Mari Mullen. Ferry Advisory Board chair Tim Caldwell is at left. -- Photo by Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT TOWNSEND -- State ferries chief David Moseley said he didn't want to be "Dave Downer" but acknowledged that his address to the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce on Monday lacked any semblance of holiday cheer.

Moseley's message was service cuts are necessary, and the promised second ferry boat for the Port Townsend-Coupeville (Keystone) run might not arrive as scheduled -- or at all.

"I want to talk to you about our future, and it's not real upbeat," the assistant secretary of transportation said. "The Washington State Ferries is not financially sustainable, and our economic challenges predate the current economic situation."

Moseley took over as head of the ferries division of the state Department of Transportation three years ago and has repeated the same mantra ever since: That the ferry system needs a steady source of income that is not available in an era of $35 car tabs.

The ferry system has managed to reduce costs and increase efficiency, but that still leaves $17 million that needs to be cut, as directed by Gov. Chris Gregoire as part of her moves to overcome a projected $5.7 billion budget deficit for 2011-2012.

"Management and administrative costs have been cut as much as possible." Moseley said. "Remaining cuts must come from service."

Which is where Moseley's remarks became local.

In a handout, Moseley outlined the service cuts that add up to $14 million.

All but one of them require cutting back sailings or reducing capacity, except the Port Townsend-Coupeville route, which stands to lose an entire boat.

Moseley was last in Port Townsend on Nov. 14 for the inauguration of the MV Chetzemoka, which was scheduled to be the first step in restoring full two-boat service to that route.

But the MV Salish, now under construction and scheduled as the second boat, may now be moved to the San Juan Islands as part of the proposed cost savings.

This appears to be the most severe of all the cost-cutting moves, aside from cutting service between Anacortes and Sidney, B.C., to 32 weeks a year from the current 40.

On the Seattle-Bremerton route, a midday sailing will be eliminated and car capacity will be reduced.

The Seattle-Bainbridge route is the only one unchanged.

The cuts depend upon the actions of the Legislature.

Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island and chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, has promised the Salish will run across Admiralty Inlet as planned.

"I hope she's right," Moseley said. "I don't want to cut service but have the responsibility to present a viable budget to the Legislature and the governor.

"Sen. Haugen is an accomplished legislator and a strong advocate of ferry services, and I'm sure she will do everything she can to protect services on this route.

"But how we get those services restored, I do not know."

Moseley told the Jefferson chamber audience the reservation system for the ferries will be further developed, along with the promised dock improvements to support that system locally.

But everything else is up for grabs.

"This [legislative] session will be unbelievable, not for just the transportation budget but for the general fund budget," Moseley said. "The money that we had for services, particularly in the general fund, are not going to be there anymore."

Moseley said chambers of commerce and local governments will have plenty of opportunity to plead their cases but should do more.

"I hope you can do more than say, 'Don't cut our services' -- that you can suggest ways to make the ferry system financially sustainable," he said.

"Even if we don't cut for this biennium, the trend has been here for 10 years and will not change for the foreseeable future."

Despite the possible cuts, Port Townsend Mayor Michelle Sandoval lauded Moseley and the State Ferries staff for their recent support.

"With the previous ferry administration, we didn't feel like we were part of the equation," she said.

"I want to thank David and his team for their leadership, transparency and communication, and want them to know we are really pleased to have the boat we have now, on the water."

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Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or charlie.bermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: December 06. 2010 11:42PM
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