PORT TOWNSEND — September has not been kind to Washington State Ferries and the Port Townsend-Coupeville route.
On Sept. 9, the MV Salish experienced either a mechanical or human-caused failure, resulting in a badly bent rudder and prop, leaving the run with only one-boat service.
“It’s currently in the shipyard being repaired but will not be back in service before the schedule change on Sept. 30,” Ian Sterling, Washington State Ferries spokesperson, said Monday. “We’re still looking into the cause.”
On Sunday morning, the MV Kennewick, the one remaining ferry, had a water jacket leak in the engine that allowed water to mix with oil.
“Vessel engineers knew there was a problem and immediately called Eagle Harbor, the only state-owned shipyard in the U.S.,” Sterling said.
“It wasn’t a massive leak, but was a complicated repair that was completed in less than 18 hours. On Sunday night, the engine performed and the boat went through sea trials. It was back in service on the first route Monday morning.”
Sterling said having zero boat service on any route is “not acceptable.”
“These boats run hard in a hard environment every day. If we hadn’t been able to repair the Kennewick, the only other boat that works on this run is the MV Chetzemoka, now used on the Point Defiance/Tahlequah route,” Sterling said.
“There were no spare vessels available for that route, which can’t handle larger vessels. At least you can drive around as you don’t live on an island.”
“It stinks when we have a boat go out of service,” he said.
At the Monday morning Jefferson County Board of Commissioners meeting, Tom Thiersch, chair of the local Ferry Advisory Committee, was poised to give a briefing on Washington State Ferries’ Long Range Plan with a particular focus on the Port Townsend terminal.
“It is timely and interesting that this failure occurred at this time,” Thiersch said. “It brings up the fact we have, for the large part of the year, only one boat. We’ll see in the plan that we need more backup and more reliable service.”
The 13 State Ferry Advisory Committees represent each of the communities the system serves, created by state law and appointed by the counties where the route is located.
Each committee member serves four-year terms and are volunteers.
Serving along with Thiersch are Lance Bailey, director of development services for the city of Port Townsend; Tammi Rupert, Jefferson Transit general manager; and Bill Mann, national columnist.
Thiersch said the long-range plan spans 2020-40. It was initiated in 2017 and involved many groups including the military, commercial interests, transit systems and local governments.
“The draft plan focuses on improving the reliability of service, improving the customer experience, managing growth of demand and the fleet, and sustainability and resiliency,” he said.
He told the commissioners that the system will be looking to “green the fleet” in the next 20 years, with a move to electrify the vessels using hybrid technology and possibly adding solar options.
The long-range plan notes the Port Townsend route would add two hours of service per day in 2020. In 2027-29, trestle and bridge structure preservation would occur.
In 2028, the two-boat spring service season would be extended.
In 2031, terminal electrification would take place.
And in 2023-33, hybridization of existing 64-car ferries would be completed.
Commissioner Kate Dean asked about the goods and services that are moved through this route and if any calculations have been done on the economic impact it has on the system.
“We’ve had a lot of commercial traffic since the new boats have been built,” Thiersch replied.
“It seems to me that the ferry system is the number one or two tourist attraction in this state, yet there has not been an economic analysis done of what the fleet means to the state economically.”
A local presentation of the plan will be held in Port Townsend at the Cotton Building, 607 Water St., on Oct. 10 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
The document is available online at wsflongrangeplan.com.
Thiersch said the plan is 110 pages, but has a 14-page executive summary. He said the ferry system is looking for comments from the public it serves.
There are 45 days to comment online or in person, then the plan will be delivered to the state Legislature on Jan. 1, 2019.
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected].