Fast-ferry trials slated to wrap up this month

Test runs of a low-wake ferry boat that may provide quicker trips for Kitsap foot-ferry commuters in the future will end this month with mixed results so far — including enough complaints from at least one group of Rich Passage residents to halt the trials for a week.

According to the latest update from Pacific International Engineering (PI Engineering), which is conducting the research, the M/V Spirit, which had been making up to eight round-trip treks to Seattle a day, was grounded March 18 while researchers could investigate the shoreline near Point White on Bainbridge Island.

The area in question — near Rich Cove — lines one of the narrowest sections of Rich Passage, and at least one resident, Don Bennett, reported “I think that I can see a ‘steepening’ of our beach contour near the water-beach boundary where the tides have been during most recent tests.”

However, after studying photographs and beach surveys during the trial stoppage, the researchers concluded that “most of the observed changes occurred in January, prior to the start of the Spirit test runs in February.” PI Engineering reports the test runs then resumed on March 25 with the consent of the property owners.

As of March 18, the 72-foot catamaran with a hull designed to minimize wakes had completed 220 trips through Rich Passage. The trips were designed to mimic a weekly, Monday-through-Friday ferry run, and the boat was weighed down with 20,000 pounds of water to simulate 149 passengers.

To determine the boat’s impact on the shoreline, researchers used a number of instruments to measure wake heights, velocities, directions and wake periods. Beach profiles at the 14 monitoring sites were last surveyed during the week of March 28.

According to PI Engineering, observations of the shoreline have been made almost daily since mid-January.

Examples of changes noted were:

• Between Feb. 14 and March 4, an area of shoreline south of Point Glover showed “signs of minor build-up.”

• Between Jan. 31 and Feb. 9, an area south of Waterman Point in Port Orchard experienced “very dynamic shifts of sediment.”

• Between Feb. 9 and March 18, a beach just south of Enetai Creek in Bremerton was “reshaped with sediment pushed up the bank.”

The trials are part of the Fast Ferry Research Project initiated in June of 2004 and funded by the Federal Transportation Administration. Partners in the venture include Kitsap Transit and Pacific Navigation, which currently operates the Bremerton-Seattle passenger-only ferry run.

Kitsap Transit Executive Director Richard Hayes said information gleaned from the recent trials will be used to construct a new boat, the M/V Spirit II, which should be ready for use on the ferry route in June of next year.

Although Hayes said he expects the M/V Spirit II will be “quite a bit better” than its predecessor, he said the new boat, at least in the beginning, will not be traveling any faster than the older boats when it starts its runs.

Before that can happen, Hayes said, more scientific research must be completed, and the residents will have to approve the faster speeds.

Five years ago, residents along the waterway claimed the boats Washington State Ferries had been operating in the area were eroding the coastline, and successfully sued to have the ferries slowed down.

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