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SK residents named to POF task force

Southworth resident Jim Heytvelt, Port Orchard resident Mark Yand and four others from the surrounding areas were chosen this week to represent ferry users on a committee that will help shape the future of passenger-only ferry (POF) service in South Kitsap

The 18-member task force, appointed by Gov. Christine Gregoire, also includes legislators and transit agency representatives.

Later this month, the committee will begin discussing several aspects of POF service, including the long-term viability and passenger costs of having it offered by the state or private providers. Members will be expected to report their findings to legislators by Nov. 30.

Heytvelt said since he commuted for years on ferries and still rides different Kitsap County routes regularly in his retirement, he is very interested in ferry service in general, and foot ferries in particular.

“I like the passenger ferries, they are much more convenient,” he said, explaining that whether you’re traveling across the Sound for work or pleasure, it is much easier and cheaper to park your car at the Southworth terminal than in downtown Seattle.

Heytvelt said he was looking forward to the committee’s discussions, explaining that he expected there to be debates over whether to expand POF service at all, and whether that expansion should include either a Southworth-Seattle direct run or a triangle route with Vashon.

Other members of the committee include Kitsap Transit Executive Director Dick Hayes, King County Metro Transit General Manager Kevin Desmond, Jim Boldt of Aqua Express and Greg Dronkert, the chief executive office of Kitsap Ferry Company.

The decision to form the task force was made last year when legislators, facing a budget deadline and unable to agree whether state or private operators should be allowed to offer POF service to SK, decided to freeze the issue to allow further study.

“There was great conflict in the Legislature about how to approach this issue,” said Jim Metcalf, legislative liaison for Kitsap Transit, which hoped this year to begin a Southworth-to-Seattle POF service to be operated by a private ferry company. “As we got down to the last few days of the session, Gov. Gregoire’s office suggested postponing any final decisions until the following session.”

Transportation budget proposals released by the House and Senate this spring proposed diametrically opposed approaches to providing POF for SK residents.

The House proposal supported state-run service, allocating the Washington State Ferries a requested $3 million for improvements to two mothballed vessels — the Chinook and Snohomish — and upgrades to the ferry terminals at Southworth and Vashon for a new triangle route.

However, the Senate budget called for the mothballed ferries to “be sold and the proceeds placed in an account which may be accessed by transit agencies in need of capital funds to initiate passenger-only service,” and provided public transportation funds “solely for competitive grants for a county or local government to provide (POF) services,” including $1.75 million for a Seattle to Vashon route.

Currently, neither approach will move forward, as Metcalf said now the starting of any new POF service will have to wait until the 2006 session and after the task force has reported back to the governor.

And although the plan effectively put SK POF service on ice for a year, Metcalf said he did see positive aspects to giving the issue a closer look.

“At least they’re involving real customers, and not just representatives from the government or commercial interests,” he said, explaining that he expected the report from the committee to be more well-rounded than a recent analysis from the state Department of Transportation. “The committee’s composition will do a better job of making sure all the interested parties are represented.”

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