Coming up with a location to moor the Southworth-to-downtown Seattle fast ferry during off hours is still up in the air but meetings continue about possibly parking it at the Southworth ferry dock, Kitsap Transit officials say.
“We have been in discussions with Washington State Ferries,” KT executive director John Clauson said. “We had our consultant do some very high-level preliminary options, if you will, to provide a viable location for our vessel on the Southworth dock.”
WSF officials “are more than willing to continue exploring those options and along with the improvements that they are planning for the Southworth dock,” he added.
KT operates the fast ferry while the state ferry system and Southworth dock are part of WSF.
The two transportation groups have been in discussions for months about the possibility of mooring the 140-foot fast ferry at Southworth. The plan is on hold as WSF makes decisions about improvements at the ferry terminal. Once those upgrades are mapped out, KT believes a decision can be made.
Among improvements at Southworth is the addition of 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 or the south, or Vashon Island side. KT will look into the mooring the passenger-only ferry on the opposite side, Clauson explained. “We have developed options for either side,” he said.
KT has provided state officials with several options on mooring the fast ferry at Southworth. “WSF has identified that all options have pros and cons but the gist of it is that they are more than willing to continue exploring those options,” Clauson said, adding he feels none of the issues surrounding the options are “showstoppers.”
Issues that will need to be investigated include treaty rights tied to the area and environmental issues, such as impacts on eelgrass beds, Clauson said.
Currently, the fast ferry operates during the weekday morning and evening commutes. When not in service — midday and at night — the boat motors to Bremerton to moor. That results in the ferry coming and going to Bremerton four times each weekday. KT wants to find moorage closer to Southworth where the boat begins its daily 26-minute runs to Pier 50 in Seattle.
Having the vessel docked in Southworth would save money and mitigate environmental impacts, KT officials say.
Avoiding 11-mile trips to Bremerton would reduce fuel costs and save on crew pay, officials said. Additionally, when the ferry travels to and from Bremerton it passes through Rich Passage, a narrow waterway between South Kitsap and Bainbridge Island. There is concern the wake of the fast ferry is damaging the shoreline there.
Originally, KT looked at mooring the ferry at Harper Pier in South Kitsap. The landing is used as a place to fish, crab and scuba dive, among other activities. That plan drew a wave of pushback from residents who feared storing the ferry at the pier would impact public access. Yard signs in protest of the proposal sprang up in yards around the region.
Not long after opposition was voiced — in large part from Friends of Harper Pier — KT appeared to sit down in earnest with the state to look at utilizing Southworth.
“Right now, we are focusing all of our attention on” Southworth, Clauson said, adding a final decision could be made within two years.