PORT ANGELES — The Department of Homeland Security extended the ban Wednesday on nonessential travel by Canadians to the U.S., cinching a lost tourist season for the Black Ball Ferry Line until at least after Aug. 21, when DHS will decide on another possible monthlong extension.
The agency’s decision followed the announcement Monday by Canadian officials that, beginning Aug. 9, Canada would open its borders to U.S. citizens vaccinated for COVID-19.
“We are at a point where we are waiting for each decision every month from the government, and this pretty well cements the fact that we have lost the entire [tourist] season,” ferry line co-owner Ryan Malane said Wednesday.
“It’s not the happiest of situations to be in.”
However, Malane remains confident Black Ball will weather the shutdown of Coho service between Port Angeles and Victoria, and plans are being made to celebrate that elusive first sailing in Port Angeles after 16 months of quietude.
Black Ball — which has administrative offices in Seattle and terminals and operations in Port Angeles and Victoria — generally employs up to 120 during the tourist season.
The company has incurred “tens of millions of dollars” in lost revenue since ferry service was halted in mid-March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Malane said.
“We will find a way to survive, I guess is the way I would say it,” he said.
The increasing spread of the Delta variant played a part in DHS’ decision, the agency said.
The strain of the coronavirus, which is up to 60 percent more transmissible than the alpha variant, is becoming the predominant strain in the U.S.
“To decrease the spread of COVID-19, including the Delta variant, the United States is extending restrictions on non-essential travel at our land and ferry crossings with Canada and Mexico through August 21, while ensuring the continued flow of essential trade and travel,” a DHS spokesperson said Wednesday in an email.
“DHS is in constant contact with Canadian and Mexican counterparts to identify the conditions under which restrictions may be eased safely and sustainably.”
Marc Abshire, Port Angeles Chamber of Commerce executive director, said Wednesday he will meet Friday with Port Angeles Mayor Kate Dexter and Malane to discuss the startup of Coho service and how the event will be celebrated.
“Everyone’s optimistic, but it’s just a bit of a delay,” Abshire said of the DHS announcement.
“We thought that door was cracking open, and it is, but it’s really tough for them to operate in one direction.”
It would help if more people were vaccinated, Abshire said.
Forty-eight percent of Americans were vaccinated as of Wednesday, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Clallam County, 56.5 percent of the population is vaccinated, and in Jefferson County, 65.3 percent.
Canada has reported that half of its population is fully vaccinated with nearly 70 percent having received at least one dose of the vaccine.
“What happens is that, when people do not get vaccinated, we have to continue to take precautions that we wouldn’t normally have to take if people were vaccinated,” Abshire said.
“I just wish more people would go ahead and get that done. It makes them and everyone else safer.”
Abshire said the lack of Canadian visitors has had little impact on downtown Port Angeles businesses.
“It’s just as busy, if not busier than we were during the pandemic,” he said.
“Although we miss the Canadians, we are getting a lot of U.S. citizens.
“All the lodging facilities are sold out, and our restaurants are really hopping. They don’t have enough staff to meet the demand, so we are kind of at capacity in many ways,” Abshire said.
“If the ferry was operating, we’d really be inundated.”
In its announcement Monday, the Public Health Agency of Canada anticipated opening Canadian borders to all travelers Sept. 7 “provided that the domestic epidemiologic situation remains favourable.”
Fully vaccinated travelers must be vaccinated at least 14 days before entering Canada and must meet specific entry requirements.
Malane, who told Peninsula Daily News on Tuesday it would take two to four weeks to have the Coho ready for service once DHS gives the go-ahead, reiterated Wednesday that Black Ball will not take passengers to Canada without being able to bring back passengers to Port Angeles.
“It really needs to be a bilateral reopening of the border for it to make sense for us to operate,” he said.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].