Kitsap Transit briefs community on possible Southworth ferry docking at Harper Pier

Residents bring plenty of questions to executive director

  • Friday, October 15, 2021 11:40am
  • News

By Mike De Felice

Special to Kitsap Daily News

PORT ORCHARD – Kitsap Transit invited residents who live near Harper Pier to a community meeting Wednesday to explain their ideas about mooring its Southworth-to-downtown Seattle fast ferry fleet at the pier when not in service.

Those plans rankled some residents, who said they fear the plan would reduce public access to the pier and its use as a place to fish, crab and scuba dive, among other activities that take place there.

During the meeting at Harper Church, which also was livestreamed on the transit agency’s YouTube channel, Kitsap Transit executive director John Clausen outlined preliminary plans for hosting fast-ferry vessels at the pier.

For all of the heat generated by online posts by the announcement, though, the public meeting was orderly. Many of the questions were submitted in advance and others came from those at the meeting and watching online.

What most attendees looked forward to was the question-and-answer period, which was dominated by those who shared their concerns over the possibility of the ferry vessels sharing space at the pier and what some believed would result in reduced public access.

“Our intentions would be that your access to that pier would remain,” Clausen told the audience.

“We’re not at all planning to go down there and put a fence across the end and say you can’t come onto it. What we are looking to do is see if there is a way that we can put a mooring float on the end so that access to the pier would remain.”

Clausen pointed to what Kitsap Transit did in Kingston when ferry service was added there. He said the Kingston passenger ferry was connected to a public fishing pier, which continued to allow the public the same access as they had prior to the ferry’s moorage.

The agency presented for the first time a series of artist’s drawings to give residents an idea of what it would look like having the passenger ferries moored at the pier.

“We asked the consultant to do [the drawings] to scale so that it would be a reasonably good example of what you would be looking at from the shoreline,” he said.

The renderings were producing by KPFF, an engineering firm that the agency has worked with for several years. Several people who attended the meeting asked why the transit agency has not looked into docking the fast ferries at the Southworth pier, from where they operate.

Clausen said that Washington State Ferries, which has responsibility for the Southworth dock, is planning several changes at the ferry terminal and dock. He said WSF plans to move the terminal building onto the shore and constructing a second car slip. That agency’s planning work has delayed Kitsap Transit from investigating whether it would be a suitable location in which to dock the fast ferries.

“From my perspective, [Southworth] would be ideal location but we will have to wait and see because there is so many issues that have to be looked at,” he said.

Clausen said he has spoken with WSF’s chief of staff, wasn’t opposed to Kitsap Transit’s consideration of Southworth as an option.

A few audience members in person and online had environmental concerns over the fast ferries sailing to and from the Port Orchard-area pier and the vessels’ discharge of oil and gasoline into nearby waters.

Clausen said heavy maintenance on the boats, such as changing a motor or repairing a generator, would be done in Port Townsend, Bremerton or Seattle — and not at Harper Pier.

Only light maintenance inside the vessels — emptying garbage cans, vacuuming, and cleaning the windows and bathrooms — would be done at that location, he said. Oil changes, refueling and sewage dumps would also take place elsewhere out of concern over fluid leaks, he added.

Fears were also raised over potential harm to the Harper Estuary and wakes created by the ferries, which could cause damage to the shoreline.

“I can guarantee you that before we could even consider moving forward, we would have to go through an extensive environmental review process,” Clausen said. “We are not there yet.”

The transit official also addressed whether dredging would be needed to accommodate the fast ferries.

“We don’t anticipate doing any dredging to be able to park the boats there. The water is deep enough,” he told the audience.

Concern also was raised that Kitsap Transit’s use of the pier would exacerbate parking problems in the area.

“We are not going to take over the community with a parking lot. That is not our intention. We are not going to run [ferry] service there. It’s simply parking the boats there when they are not in service.”

Boat crew staff could park at the Harper Park and Ride and be shuttled to the pier, he said.

A question was asked over whether additional lights would be placed on the pier near the docked vessels and be on all night. The Coast Guard requires lighting on the boats for security reasons, so lighting would be needed at night and during the weekend, Clausen said.

“If we do move forward, we would look at what options are available so we are not shining lights up into your living room window. [We would] keep the lights contained at the vessels.”

Clausen believed the selection process to pin down a new mooring location for the ferries could take at least two years.

“These kinds of processes take an awful lot of time to do with all of the environmental assessments and further engineering. I would be happy if we could see something in two years, but I think that might be a bit optimistic,” he said.

The final decision about where the fast ferries will be moored, though, rests with Kitsap Transit.

“Ultimately, it would be up to the transit board of directors to make the final call. We take our role as a public agency pretty seriously,” Clausen told the audience. “If there is just an absolute ‘no way in the world’ for Harper Pier, then we certainly aren’t looking to get into a battle with the community.”

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