Two-boat service delayed again

Elected officials plan discussion with state ferries chief

PORT TOWNSEND — Two-boat service on the state Port Townsend-Coupeville route won’t be in place before June 27.

Washington State Ferries originally had planned to begin a summer schedule of running two ferries daily between Port Townsend and Whidbey Island today. In mid-April that was delayed until at least June 9, although with the possibility of having two ferries in use for Memorial Day weekend.

That won’t happen now, according to a notice sent out last week.

“While still facing vessel crewing challenges due to COVID quarantines and vaccination-related time off for vessel employees, due to emergent maintenance and repair issues, we now have vessel shortages which necessitate service reductions on several routes,” said spokesman John B. Vezina of Washington State Ferries, in a press release

“When we lose a large vessel, as we did with the fire on the 202-vehicle Wenatchee, there are cascading effects across the system.”

Washington State Ferries needs 18 vessels for peak operation in 2021 — down from 19 since the Canadian border is closed, Vezina said. But only 16 are available until at least late June because of work being done on the Yakima, Chelan, Kaleetan, Issaquah, and the fire on the Wenatchee, he said.

Port Townsend city and Jefferson County elected officials plan to discuss the matter with the head of Washington State Ferries Patty Rubstello during a conference call on Tuesday with no quorum, said Port Townsend Mayor Michelle Sandoval in a text Friday.

“This decision to delay the second boat had no discussion with electeds and no public process, only a press release,” Sandoval said.

Port Townsend relies heavily on tourism, which looks to increase if COVID-19 restrictions continue to loosen but without the additional trips provided by a second ferry, that could slow.

“Our vital marine highway is essential for commerce and our small businesses have struggled plenty during the last year,” Sandoval added.

“Of course it’s not just tourism that suffers but commuters, business deliveries and navy personnel, too,” she said.

“We fought hard to keep this ferry route afloat 10 years ago with the new ferry fleet on this route. We hope our conversation is productive with the new ferry director.”

Staffing shortages are another reason for the delay, according to the state ferries system.

“While every agency in government is affected by Covid-related personnel issues — our city staff has been affected as well — we would hope the state with so many more resources at its disposal would have planned for this contingency,” Sandoval said.

Other factors are a pause in the state’s vessel construction program, which led to no ferries being built between 2000-2010, and “a consistent under-investment in preservation and maintenance,” Vezina said.

The fleet now numbers 21 vessels with a mean age of 30 years, he said; now some of those are having to be repaired or maintained.

“While we build new vessels we must make service decisions by balancing short-term needs with long-term maintenance allowing us to keep aging vessels in operation,” Vezina said.

Other route charges announced by Washington State Ferries are:

• The Fauntleroy/Southworth/Vashon “Triangle” route, previously scheduled to return to three-boat service today, won’t do so until at least June 7.

• Additionally, when the 124-vehicle Issaquah left the route for its required drydock inspection and maintenance period on Thursday, it was replaced by the 90-vehicle Sealth, which was replaced on the Seattle/Bremerton route by the 64-vehicle Salish, a capacity downsizing of 26 vehicles and a slower operating speed, necessitating schedule adjustments and the elimination of an early afternoon round trip. This downsizing will last until at least June 27.

• A plan to three of the state’s larger vessels serving the San Juan Islands beginning today has been changed to having one of those larger vessels replaced by a 20-vehicle smaller Issaquah class ferry until at least June 27.

• From Memorial Day until at least July 25, the Seattle/Bainbridge route will have downsized capacity, with the 144-vehicle Kaleetan replacing the 188-vehicle Walla Walla through July 11 and the 124-vehicle Issaquah through July 25.

• The Clinton/Mukilteo route, which from May-October is usually served by two 144-vehicle Olympic Class vessels, will have one Olympic, and one smaller, 124-vehicle vessel for most of the summer.

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Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3530 or at [email protected]

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