Sidney-Anacortes ferry sails into budget storm

The Sidney-Anacortes ferry is facing the possibility of extended winter shutdowns as Washington state’s Department of Transportation looks for budget savings.

Its preliminary budget identifies $594,000 in savings that could be realized from 2015 to 2017 by extending the winter closure on the Anacortes ferry to 20 weeks from the current 12.

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Other potential cuts include reducing service on the San Juan routes and having no third vessel weekend service for the Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth route. If adopted, the cuts would take effect in November 2015.

“It’s a real threat [to the service], but it’s not fact yet,” said Rick Hughes, chairman of San Juan County Council.

He acknowledges it’s early days in the budget process but is organizing opposition to the move.

“As an elected official in a county that’s only served by ferries, we get real nervous when they talk about cuts anywhere across the board.”

Hughes said he’s frustrated that “instead of taking across the board transportation cuts through all of WSDOT,” specific ferry routes are being suggested for cuts.

“We’re not talking about a ton of money but it’s the principle,he said. “There’s so many people in this state that are ferry dependent that if we start looking at three different schedules and say we’ll just look at some inefficient routes and take them out of the plan, it just doesn’t bode well.”

Hughes, who lives on Orcas Island, has organized a coalition of six Washington state counties and is inviting the Town of Sidney to join in writing to Governor Jay Inslee to protest the cuts. He said he hopes to have international support in the message being sent to Inslee.

“We live in a county all of islands. This is our highway. It’s our marine highway,” Hughes said.

“The only way we can get to hospital is on a ferry and we have to make sure that our legislators and our governor and the secretary of transportation realize how important this is.”

Sidney Mayor Larry Cross, reached at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Whistler, is confident his council will lend support to Hughes’ efforts.

“I’d like to see it [ferry service] go a full year, myself, rather than see it go the other way. Because, again, I think the opportunity is there to grow it,” Cross said.

“I think if it’s there and you market it properly and market events and opportunities for tourism on both sides you can start to fill the boat. If the boat’s not there the opportunity just goes.”

Tourism Victoria CEO Paul Nursey did not have details about the ferry finances but said he’s worried about any reduction in access to the Island.

“I’m concerned about it,” Nursey said. “I need to learn more about it. And perhaps there’s some creative ways to make the service more viable.”

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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