Crunch Time for Input to Task Force Decisions

Bill Lee, who’s diligently attended County Council, Task Force and other ferry-related meetings for many years, submitted this piece urging everyone to attend remaining task force meetings in June.   

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I would like to strongly encourage Lummi Islanders and in fact any and all Whatcom County residents to attend the June 20th meeting of the Citizens’ Task Force for the Lummi Island Ferry at the Lummi Island Grange at 6PM. The Task Force needs and wants your input on several critical issues relating to ferry operations. This group has done a Herculean job at examining ferry operations and funding and now must begin to come to recommendations and write their report.

Given what I heard said by several members of the County Council at a special meeting to hear a brief report by the Task Force’s Chairperson, Barbara Ryan, on Tuesday June, 7th, the Council is contemplating changes for the ferry that will have serious impacts for all ferry users. One such measure is the reduction of ferry runs to the point that a single ferry crew could cover a day’s operation. The Council did not go into the details of how this change would be scheduled but did ask that the Task Force to seek comments from Islanders about such a schedule change and also specifically asked about the Needs Based Fare issue.

Having attended all the Task Force meetings as well as just about every Island and County Council meeting concerning the ferry for the last ten years I want to say, “This is ‘crunch time’ folks!” Just because it appears that there may be some sort of deal between the County and the Lummi Nation about continued operations at Gooseberry Point, and just because Sam Crawford said he doesn’t think it is a good idea to “raise fares again,” don’t think that every thing is fine with the ferry and you can forget about it!

The County is looking at reduced general income and will be forced to impose cuts to its budget. The ferry operation is going to be at the fore front of any County budget cutting that is done. Remember that it is an election year and one in Whatcom County with many potential changes in political office holders. The Island is in a distinct disadvantage both in terms of our political power by way of the ballet box and because I think few people understand what the ferry means to our community. Most everyone else in the unincorporated county sees cuts to ferry service as a “simple” matter. It is easy for non-islanders to assume they have an understanding of what living even just seven tenths of a mile across the water means. Unless someone has on their way home one evening found all the roads to their neighborhood gone they do not know what it is like for school child, or and adult for that matter, to find the ferry not running. Yes, Islanders know we have chosen to live on an island, and I would assert that we know better than most what that means.

When I hear people ask if Islanders had kept in mind that “it is an island after all” when they decided to live on Lummi, I often want to ask if these same people kept in mind when they bought property in mainland Whatcom County that the county included places like Lummi Island, Point Roberts, and many other isolated locations that need services? Of course, this kind of debate is never really productive and it behooves us to try and help people understand that even small changes in the ferry can makes very big differences for us. The important question is how to use the resources the county has available as equitably as possible and not force people to have to leave the island. That is not an easy job, please attend the Task Force meeting and help!

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At the June 13 and 20 meetings, the Task Force will take community input on what specific recommendations they will make to the County Council about changes to ferry fares and operations.   Input from island businesses, parents and people working in town is especially needed.

(Alternative:  Read task force materials online, e.g., draft ideas for cutting costs/increasing revenues) or at the library and submitted written comments to the task force).

Bill Lee

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