Kitsap, King eye return of Mosquito Fleet

A very passenger-only-ferry-friendly crowd with many Kitsap County faces gathered in West Seattle on Tuesday to discuss an attempt by King County to at least partly revive the Mosquito Fleet of old.

Called “Return of the Mosquito Fleet,” the forum was hosted by Cascadia Discovery Institute and brought together officials from local maritime companies, researchers and regional representatives to mainly express their desire to have commuters traveling via foot ferries instead of cars, as most people and goods in the county did for decades.

“The days of building endless freeways next to large parking lots are over,” said King County Councilman Dow Constantine, explaining that a ferry district recently created in King County may soon lead to more passenger-only ferry service if the council he serves on approves a property tax of 2 to 3 cents per $1,000 of home value.

Explaining that a homeowner with a $400,000 house would pay from $8 to $12 more a year if the tax was passed, Constantine said he thought that was “a bargain,” considering what they would get for that money.

So far, it appears the money would be used to take over the Vashon-Seattle POF service when the state steps aside, expand operation of the current summer/fall run of the Elliot Bay Water Taxi service from downtown Seattle to Alki Point, and conduct a demonstration route from Kirkland to the University of Washington.

To make sure any new service would be viable and actually serve its community, fellow King County Councilmember Julia Patterson explained that Nelson/Nygaard was hired to complete a Regional Passenger-Only Ferry Study.

Expected to be completed early next year, Patterson said the study will “consolidate all the many plans out there and outline the major issues involved.”

Such a unified effort that extends west to Kitsap, south to Olympia and north as far as Bellingham is crucial, she said.

“We have got to establish a coordinated, regional plan, and we need to create it with everyone involved around the same table,” she said. “We cannot meet the future needs with a patchwork system — we need something that is very bold, and that includes us all.”

At least one Kitsap official present Tuesday night and anxious to be involved in future plans was Port Orchard Mayor Kim Abel, who spoke at the forum as the current chair of Kitsap Transit’s Advisory Board on behalf of the agency’s executive director Dick Hayes.

“And Dick Hayes wanted me to tell you that we actually own the name Mosquito Fleet,” Abel told the crowd with a laugh, explaining afterward that the agency was also happy to share that name with all proponents of POF service.

“And today, I was happy to take three ferries to get here, starting with the foot ferry from Port Orchard to Bremerton,” Abel said, explaining that Kitsap officials are working hard to expand POF service and “would love to send just our people here to Seattle, not their cars.”

To do that, Abel said she and other Kitsap officials will be watching King County’s efforts closely, particularly the results of the Regional POF Study.

“That’s going to be really helpful, and hopefully we can find some answers to (issues) we’ve been dealing with,” Abel said, explaining that despite two consecutive failures by Kitsap Transit to get a tax measure passed to fund countywide POF routes, there is “still a strong will in Kitsap to support foot ferries.”

In return, Abel said Kitsap Transit has exciting research to offer King County officials — specifically the Seattle-Bremerton Fast Passenger-Ferry Study being conducted in Rich Passage since 2004.

According to Phil Osbourne of Pacific International Engineering, the group conducting the trials, the research is helping create a low-wake, fuel-efficient vessel that will be ideal for POF routes throughout Puget Sound.

“There is a strong will in Kitsap County (for foot ferries), and where there’s a will, there’s a way,” Osbourne said.

To turn the will into results, however, state Rep. Larry Seaquist, (D-Gig Harbor) had some advice for the crowd in West Seattle.

“Put the heat on your elected officials to do the work required to integrate POF into our transportation system,” Seaquist said. “We here in Seattle love to talk about transportation, and I’d like to see us stop talking and get on with it.”

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