PORT ANGELES — Black Ball Ferry Line has received $500,000 in federal COVID-19 relief funding from the city of Port Angeles, helping the 62-year-old company weather the shutdown of service to Victoria into 2022, if need be.
“We’ll make it,” Ryan Malane, a vice president and co-owner, said Monday.
“We still don’t know when the border will reopen,” he added.
“Our intention, because of discussion we’ve had with the city council, is to use those funds toward required maintenance that we have to do during this winter. We will respect that intent and use it for maintaining the ship so it is ready.”
Maintenance expenditures for Black Ball’s 1,000-passenger, 115-vehicle Coho ferry, shut down since March 29, 2020, due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, are about $250,000 a month. The company’s 120 workers have been laid off or are on reduced hours but are still receiving medical insurance.
The Port Angeles City Council voted 6-0 Sept. 21 to allocate $500,000 to Black Ball, the largest chunk of $1.03 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding awarded at the meeting.
Council member Brendan Meyer was absent for medical reasons, Deputy Mayor Navarra Carr said.
That leaves $3 million in ARPA funds from $5.65 million the city received.
Council members also approved $250,000 in ARPA money for past-due utility bill relief, $133,900 for software needs, $100,000 for pandemic expense reimbursement and $50,000 for public meetings technology.
Funding for heating, ventilation and air conditioning upgrades at city hall, the senior center and fire station and for child care expenditures were tabled for future consideration.
At a meeting in August, the City Council delayed giving a go-ahead to the Black Ball allocation before hearing a presentation from Malane at a later meeting, then approving it Sept. 21.
“Part of the reservation is, we know that some infrastructure is also suffering, but to me it felt like the need was just so great by Black Ball that is felt almost like, how could we not support that?” Carr said Monday.
“[Black Ball] is such a huge member of our community. It’s such a piece of our history and our culture. They are solid community partners,” she said.
Black Ball also has received $500,000 in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds from Clallam County and loan assistance through the federal Payment Protection Program.
“We are absolutely applying for and maximizing every possible funding opportunity,” Malane said.
“I can’t say enough about how supported we feel from the community. I don’t know too many businesses that can last two years with zero revenue.”
U.S. citizens can travel to Canada for leisure purposes if they are fully vaccinated and meet other pandemic-related requirements.
The U.S. is not allowing entry to Canadian citizens at land border locations, including Black Ball’s dock in Port Angeles Harbor, at least until Oct. 21, when U.S. authorities plan to announce if the ban will be extended.
“If there is a bilateral reopening of the border, we intend to return to service as soon as we possibly can, but it has to go both ways,” Malane said.
“Absolutely, it’s a business decision.”
Coho workers continue to be keep the vessel ready to sail, enticing city residents with tiny practice runs every six weeks or so into the harbor, sounding its whistle for good measure but staying put in Port Angeles.
Meanwhile, the Seattle-based 525-passenger-only Victoria Clipper ferry set sail Sept. 17 to Victoria for the first time in 17 months.
“In their evaluation of their business, they determined that 85 percent of their customers were U.S. customers,” he said.
“With all the requirements for PCRs [polymerase chain reaction tests] and all that stuff, they believed they had a business case to operate just with U.S. passengers.
“We rely in the offseason on [Canadian] snowbirds with RVs,” Malane said, adding it accounts for 35 percent to 40 percent of fall revenue.
“We don’t have the same mix as Clipper does.”
Scott Meis, vice president of marketing for Victoria Clipper owner FRS Clipper of Seattle, agreed Monday that the Seattle-based company has a different business model than Black Ball.
“It made a little more sense for us to get going vs. Black Ball,” Meis said.
The overall entry process, which requires visitors to document a negative PCR test within 72 hours of arrival in Victoria, has proven somewhat of a constraint for passengers, he said.
The average price for a PCR test is $149, according to healthsystemtracker.org. Visitors to Canada also must register on the government’s online platform, ArriveCAN, and list a place to quarantine for 14 days, if necessary.
“Ninety percent of people are showing up with correct documents and they’ve done their research,” Meis added.
Malane said it will take 10-14 days to get the Coho up and running, even if it’s in December, a matter of weeks before Black Ball normally shuts down for a spell.
“We would anticipate we would return to service at the earliest possible time regardless of the date,” he said.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].