By Mike De Felice
Kitsap News Group
PORT ORCHARD – Kitsap Transit officials are focusing their attention on possibly docking the Southworth-to-downtown Seattle fast ferry in its off-hours at the Southworth ferry terminal rather than at Harper Pier.
The transportation agency’s move to broaden its options where to moor the passenger-only vessel is welcome news to those who believe storing the ferry at Harper Pier would interfere with public use of the pier and harm nearby waterways.
Kitsap Transit officials recently sat down with officials from Washington State Ferries (WSF) — which operates the Southworth dock — to raise the idea of parking the fast ferry at the terminal at night.
“They didn’t have any problem with it at all,” Kitsap Transit Executive Director John Clauson said of WSF’s reaction to the suggestion. “They have no concern with us connecting into their dock as long as it’s not going to interfere with their future plans.”
WSF’s openness to the proposal to moor the fast ferry at Southworth is key, he said.
“It has a tremendous impact. If they indicated they were not interested in us doing it, that pretty much would have [ruled out] that option. But because of their willingness to allow us to move forward with this project, now it’s, ‘Let’s figure out what would it take,’” Clauson said.
“I’m very encouraged by the willingness of Washington State Ferries to entertain the possibility, although it’s not surprising. They have been a wonderful partner to work with through the entire evolution of the passenger-only program.”
Kitsap Transit’s Harper Pier proposal had created waves in the community. Friends of Harper Pier, a community group that considers itself a guardian of the maritime structure, strongly oppose docking the passenger ferry at the pier. Group members voiced their environmental and quality-of-life concerns about the plan. Yard signs soon popped up around the area protesting the proposal.
News that Kitsap Transit is considering Southworth was met with a sigh of relief by members of the community group.
“It’s encouraging,” said James Heytvelt, co-founder and spokesman of Friends of Harper Pier.
“We found it was a very positive step and are glad [Kitsap Transit and WSF] are holding the meetings. We will just have to keep our fingers crossed and see where it goes. We are in a holding pattern. We are continuing to be vigilant and follow the Kitsap Transit’s board meetings,” Heytvelt said.
The state ferries department ultimately controls the fate of the plan to store the fast ferry at Southworth.
Currently, WSF is planning a number of improvements at Southworth, including adding a second slip to allow cars to drive on and off ferries, Clauson said. State ferry officials have not decided if the additional slip will be built on the north, or harbor side, of the existing slip versus the south, or Vashon Island side.
Once the state determines which side the new slip will be built, Kitsap Transit will look into the possibility of mooring the passenger-only ferry on the opposite side, Clauson explained. He said Kitsap Transit will be busy working on the Southworth plan while state officials go through the process of deciding where to build the new slip.
“I have asked our consultant firm to work with Washington State Ferries to start, at a very high level, to look at what options are available for moorage on either side,” Clauson said. “This way, we can at least identify what are the issues we would need to address if we were to put it on the harbor side or put it on the Vashon side.”
KPFF, the consulting firm Kitsap Transit has on retainer, is working on the project. The firm has worked with the transit agency throughout the development of the fast ferry program. Clauson said it is too early to say when Kitsap Transit may be given approval by state ferries officials to build moorage space at Southworth.
“At this point, it’s hard to say because there are such a wide variety of environmental and tribal issues that have to be dealt with. Until we find something that I refer to it as a fatal flaw or that is going to make it cost-prohibitive, we are going to continue moving down this path of installing something at Southworth,” Clauson said.
“This is an ongoing project.”