Kitsap Transit declines to bail out Horluck

"Two state legislators from Kitsap County are calming the waters for the future of passenger ferry service.Although Washington State Ferries plans to axe its foot ferries this summer, Sen. Betti Sheldon and Rep. Phil Rockefeller, both Democrats from the 23rd District, submitted bills this week that make ferries exempt from environmental review.If the bills become law during the legislative session that opened Monday, the state ferry system or a public-private partnership could operate ferries without first conducting an expensive and time-consuming review process mandated by the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). Sheldon and Rockefeller said they see the bills as clarifying SEPA, because they believe it was never intended to apply to boats.But some local property owners would disagree; 67 of them filed a class-action lawsuit last March claiming that the fast-ferry Chinook’s wake damaged shoreline in Rich Passage. Their lawyers argue that a SEPA review should have been conducted on the new, high-speed ferry technology.Rockefeller and Sheldon noted their bills aren’t intended to keep property owners from seeking compensation if they can prove ferry wakes damaged their shores. The pending legislation is intended to remove one legal landmine from the future of ferry service--and Kitsap Transit executive director Dick Hayes said his proposed public-private foot ferry partnership would be severely hampered by that kind of legal entanglement.“This enables us to consider alternative arrangements” for the state ferry service expected to be cut this summer, Rockefeller said. He expects bi-partisan support for his bill, which is co-sponsored by Rep. Beverly Woods (R-23rd District) and signed onto by Reps. Pat Lantz (D-26th District), Kathy Haigh and Bill Eickmeyer (D-35th District) and Ruth Fisher (D-Tacoma).Rockefeller’s bill was submitted Monday, and Sheldon said Monday that she was making final revisions and expected to submit her bill this week. Sheldon’s bill is narrower than Rockefeller’s; her’s exempts from SEPA ferries run by the state or transit agencies that travel established state ferry routes. His exempts from SEPA regularly-scheduled ferries running between established terminal facilities.“I think we’ll both be happy if either one of our bills goes,” Sheldon said. “This is our trial balloon, and we’re going to see how many bullets it takes to bring it down.”Sheldon said she was sure her bill would get a hearing at some point during the legislative session, which runs until March 9. “This doesn’t pull the state out of any responsibility to the property owners,” Sheldon said, “and it doesn’t intend to change SEPA. But ferries are so important to Kitsap County that we need this legislation.”"

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