Murray steers money into Rich Passage study

A local effort to create a low-wake boat that might some day zip commuters through Rich Passage to Seattle again got a $2.2 million boost last week courtesy of U.S. Sen. Patty Murray.

On Thursday, the senator’s office announced that Murray — who is chairman of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations Subcommittee — included $2.65 million for Kitsap County projects in the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill.

All but $450,000 of that will help fund the Rich Passage Wake study, a Kitsap Transit-steered initiative that has Pacific International Engineering both designing a low-wake boat and testing its impact on the sensitive shorelines east of Sinclair Inlet.

“I am committed to supporting the effort to design a ferry that will meet(Kitsap’s) transportation needs without damaging its fragile shores,” Murray said. “These funds will finalize the design of a cutting-edge catamaran and will continue studies to ensure the boat’s wake does not threaten Rich Passage.”

Dick Hayes, executive director of Kitsap Transit, said the latest funding is a continuation of the vital federal support the project has received so far.

“They have made a long-term commitment to this, and they know we need to complete this and get a boat that can get through Rich Passage before we can ever succeed with (bringing foot ferries back),” Hayes said. “So this research is crucial.”

Hayes said a large portion of the latest $2.2 million will go toward completing an Environmental Impact Statement, and explained that the most important piece of the study is figuring out how to mitigate the potential harm to the beaches.

According to Phil Osbourne of PI Engineering, his group began the project because there was significant interest in reviving the fast ferry runs through Rich Passage, which were halted due to complaints from property owners, who ultimately filed a lawsuit.

“The conclusion is that the state-run ferries had a substantial impact on the beaches, making the condition of the beach unacceptable to the property owners,” Osbourne said, explaining that the current study, which began in 2004, is focusing on the wakes created by the boats.

While wakes are less of a problem in deeper sections of Puget Sound, he said in Rich Passage’s narrow and shallow areas, the waves created “get amplified by the bottom topography and tidal currents,” wreaking havoc on the shoreline.

Osbourne said his group began the study by making models of different wakes and how they behave, which would eventually allow them to predict how different vessels at different speeds would affect the shoreline areas.

Once the model was created, he said his group could plug in the specifics and speeds of vessels they were considering for the route, and see if any would meet their criteria for low wakes.

Osbourne said while none of the boats tested — including the M/V Spirit — would be perfect as is, he said, “I think we’re on the right track with the foil-assisted catamaran, such as the Spirit. I think this type of vessel could be optimized quite a lot (to improve the wakes).”

Hayes said the group is now close to a final design for the low-wake boat, though he estimated it would still be another year and a half before such a vessel would be constructed.

“We’re really close to the target now,” he said. “We’ve been working on this for three years, and we’ve been very fortunate to have had the federal dollars to support this.”

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