Gardner optimistic about ferry

Published on Thu, Dec 6, 2001 by Meg Olson

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Gardner optimistic about ferry

By Meg Olson

State senator Georgia Gardner has been on a not-so-secret mission for the last five years and she’s claiming to have won a decisive battle.

“We are farther along in getting a ferry from Blaine to Point Roberts than we have ever been,” she told Blaine city council November 26 announcing that she had found a suitable ferry for the run and the dollars to buy it. “Repeat after me: Hi-Yu. That’s what we’ve got,” she said while breaking the news to the Point Roberts chamber of commerce November 7.

The 162-foot vehicle ferry HiYu was built in Portland and put into service as a Washington State ferry in 1967. It can carry 40 cars and 200 passengers, according to the state ferry system fleet guide, and has a passenger cabin and restroom but no disabled facilities on the car deck. The slowest ferry in the state fleet with a speed of 10 knots, it was mothballed last summer.

Last June the Bremerton Sun reported that the state department of corrections had been given the go-ahead to purchase the ferry but Gardner said it is now available for $1 million, and she thinks she has found a funding source to buy it for the Blaine-Point Roberts run. “There are federal funds available this would qualify for, but we haven’t applied for it yet. Finding the funding doesn’t mean you get it,” she said.

Gardner said there is a study now underway to determine if the HiYu is appropriate for the run. The next step will be to determine an estimated run time and from that an operating budget, work out where the ferry would dock at each end of the run and which agency would run it.
“It would have to be a Whatcom County ferry,” Gardner said. “The county is already in the ferry business at Lummi Island and this would be an addition.” She said the operating budget would come from fares with the shortfall made up from state and county funds. “I expect it will be doable,” she said.
“We’re in the initial stages, but in my mind the initial hurdle has been met,” Gardner said.
Steve Jilk of the Port of Bellingham said permitting and paying for facilities at either end of the run could be the biggest hurdle. “I believe it’s only feasible if the funding for construction of docks and upland infrastructure – parking, access and gates – is in place,” he said. “If the assumption is the ferry will carry cars the cost that I’ve heard can be $10 million per destination.”
Jilk added that the steering committee for the Point Roberts municipal pier had opted not to wait for ferry plans to develop and had, at their November 19 meeting, committed to pursuing funding for a pedestrian recreational pier. He estimated funding and permitting could put the ferry five or more years out and committee members didn’t want to lose the opportunity for a public pier in the meantime.
Gardner said she believes the ferry project could be fast-tracked. “I don’t think this is a five-year project,” she said. “I think we could get going in 2003.”

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