Funding approved for Black Ball Transportation Inc.

‘Need hasn’t gone away’

PORT ANGELES — Black Ball Transportation Inc. was approved to receive another $1.25 million in American Recovery Plan Act funds to fill in its operational gaps for the MV Coho ferry service between Port Angeles and Victoria.

Clallam County commissioners approved the funding on Tuesday.

The money is in addition to the nearly $5 million in funds the company that operates the Black Ball Ferry Line received through the county in November.

“Their need hasn’t gone away,” Clallam County Commissioner Randy Johnson said at the meeting.

“Their boat still has to go into the dry dock, and again I want to thank the City of Port Angeles for co-funding this project,” he added.

“I consider Black Ball an icon of our community and hopefully, this will help get them toward the finish line,” Johnson said.

Of the additional $1.25 million, $750,000 is dedicated to dry dock work for the Coho, a requirement by the U.S. Coast Guard. The ferry will be out of service for dry dock maintenance from Jan. 4-17.

The remaining $500,000 will be dedicated to other operational costs as the ferry service gets back on its feet. It resumed service on Nov. 9 after halting operations on March 30, 2020, due to COVID-19 health restrictions and the closure of the U.S.-Canada border.

“We are profoundly appreciative of the support we’ve received from the city, county, state and federal governments,” said Ryan Malane, vice president and co-owner of Black Ball Ferry Line.

“Without these public funds, we would not have been able to operate,” he said unequivocally.

The funding “has allowed us to retain our highly skilled crew, who are like family.”

During the 19-month shutdown, Black Ball furloughed nearly all of its employees due to a near total loss in revenue.

But while they were furloughed, Black Ball continued to pay for medical benefits. The company brought some employees back to work in the spring and summer of 2020 and 2021 for operations and maintenance jobs.

The county staff memo said that, between March 2020 and August 2021, Black Ball incurred about $8 million in operating expenditures, of which Black Ball was able to secure funding through Paycheck Protection Program forgivable loans totaling about $2 million and a Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) Lifeboat 2 grant provided by the county of $500,000 to partially cover such costs, leaving about $5.5 million in costs for which Black Ball had to rely on its reserves.

It also received $4 million grant in Coronavirus Economic Relief for Transportation Services (CERTS) grant in September, as well as $500,000 from the City of Port Angeles in American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funds for payroll and benefits.

Despite the help, until Black Ball can rebuild its revenue stream, it will be operating at a loss with an anticipated $9.5 million to $11.5 million in expenditures, according to company leaders.

In October, Black Ball sent a letter to Clallam County outlining the concern, which prompted the county to disperse the additional ARPA funds it approved this week.

According to a study conducted by Olympus Consulting, from November 2019, the Coho carried more than 470,000 riders that year, translating into about $64.3 million being injected into the local economy.

Black Ball, pre-pandemic, was one of the area’s leading employers, with 91 people. That, in turn, supported the direct employment of more than 600 people in the hospitality, dining, and retail industries, which, in turn, supported another 250 people in the supply chain and general economy, the consulting company said.

Since it resumed service, the Coho’s sailings have already contributed more than $1 million to the local economy, Malane said.

“These public funds are a strong return on investment for the community,” he said.

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Reporter Ken Park can be reached at [email protected].

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