FRI, JAN 5, 2023 – FRIDAY HARBOR, WA—In a Zoom call this afternoon, Washington State Senator Liz Lovelett (D-40) talked with citizens and one reporter in a meeting organized by San Juan County-based FLOW (Ferry Lovers Of Washington).
Senator Lovelett discussed potential state funding of the new Community Water Taxi service based on Orcas Island, the legislative push to staff ferries above Coast Guard minimums, and what will happen to new boat building if the Climate Commitment Act were to be repealed by voters.
No other private initiative designed to compensate for the faltering reliability of WSF this year has earned as much press as the Community Water Taxi (CWT) project, which began in August 2023. Senator Lovelett listened to an appeal for a state financial subsidy for the new service from CWT co-founder Tom Bridge of Crane Island. During the Zoom meeting, Lovelett paused in the meeting and reached for her laptop keyboard and sent an email to transportation staffers with the legislature to draw attention to the CWT request.
CNL2 asked the Senator to assist in its investigative reporting on whether ramped-up recruiting efforts are bearing fruit. Lovelett referred CNL2 to a source of data online, and offered to direct her staff to assist in filling in gaps for data CNL2 might still need. During the meeting, the senator did indicate recruiting is up.
CNL2 CEO Jeff Noedel stated that CNL2 is eager to report any good news – any progress in recruiting – if it is indeed real.
Lovelett said that the current draft of the state budget calls for “plus one” staffing over Coast Guard minimums. She said the budget will be taking shape by the end of January, and if that portion of the proposed budget stays intact, the state will be able to move away from staffing to Coast Guard minimums, a practice which has led to the cancellation of many hundreds of sailings in recent months.
Asked what will happen to the state’s acquisition of new boats if the Climate Commitment Act were to be repealed, Lovelett, without hesitation, declared, “No boats! No boats! One boat, maybe.”
Lovelett stated that the modern hybrid electric propulsion systems in the new boats, among other qualities of the new styled boats, will be paid out of funds generated by the Climate Commitment Act.
Lovelett said she has several priorities that she will be exploring with WSDOT in the coming months.
First, she wants to see a WSDOT parking lot in Anacortes, or at least part of a parking lot, dedicated to San Juan Countians who could leave a car – perhaps to be shared with friends or neighbors on the Anacortes side – so a walk-on passenger would have a car to use once alighting from the ferry. She said one challenge would be to verify full-time residence on an island for users of the valuable spaces. She said use of the spaces would be free, or priced low.
Second, Lovelett said WSF could do more to educate potential employees about the attractiveness of a career with WSF.
FLOW Chairman Tom Starr asked the Senator what he should say to islanders who ask him how they should cope over the next five years. Lovelett said she would answer that in three ways:
- The state is looking for opportunities to engage or expand public-private partnerships
- Recruiting for increased staff at levels above Coast Guard minimums
- Retiring older boats as new ones are built
Lovelett repeated her mantra, “One new boat every other year…forever.”
The 2024 supplemental legislative session in Olympia starts Monday, January 8. The session will last approximately 60 days.