Nancy Gale attended the PLIC General Meeting at the Grange last night (June 30th) and submitted this excellent summary for all of you that couldn’t make it to the meeting. Thank you, Nancy.
Twenty-two Lummi Islanders at the Thursday, June 30th PLIC meeting heard a summary of the Tribal-County dock lease, listened to a report from Ferry Task Force member, Diane Harper, and took part in a conversation concerning PLIC’s future.
Stuart Rich, PLIC President, summarized what he expects the lease to include once Dan Gibson, County Assistant Prosecutor, finishes reviewing the document: $200,000 annual lease payment adjusted to the Consumer Price Index with a total of $6 million promised to the Tribe in road-related projects. The $6 million will be provided at the rate of $2 million per two year over the course of six years. The $2 million increments (within the amount of road fund tax revenue collected from within the boundaries of the Lummi reservation) are expected to be matched by the Tribe. Whether the County’s $6 million will come from the Roads or the Ferry Fund is still not clear with Frank Abart advocating that it come from the latter.
Stuart stated that he anticipates the lease to be accepted by the County Council with a 5-2 vote. It will be written for 25 plus 10 years. The proposed lease will go to the Council on July 12 and is expected to be passed on July 26. According to Stuart, no public hearing is required.
Diane Harper, emphasizing that she was speaking in an unofficial capacity, stated that the Task Force is still accepting comments from Lummi Island residents. Its report will be complete by July 25 and provided to the County by August 1. At that time, the Task Force will cease to exist.
Diane noted that this year’s overall County revenue has a 10% deficit and that a Council member has asked the TF “whether the ferry can get by with a split shift,” thereby drastically reducing the amount of runs per day. This is the atmosphere, she said, in which the Task Force will present its report and recommendations.
Facts presented by Diane included: the greatest ferry operation costs are dry dock (managed by Public Works) and the salaries and benefits of ferry workers; and the Whatcom Chief operates 20% or more hours per day more than Skagit or Pierce County ferries operate.
Recommendations being considered by the TF include: having the ferry operate on one engine, when appropriate, to save fuel; switching to electronic ticketing, which would save administrative time; reducing the categories of Islanders eligible for need-based fares; removing the Saturday after-midnight. crossing since it is little used; retaining the 5:40 a.m. crossing to accommodate those employed on mainland; having the Opportunity Council, rather than County Administration, screen need-based fare applications; not providing an expiration date on ferry passes; changing ferry passes to include 20 trips; allowing all passengers under 18 years old to ride free but removing free and discounted fares based solely on students status over age 18, disability, age over 61, and retired crew status.
Topics that the TF is still struggling with include: how to handle parking at Gooseberry Point (current lease expires next year); how much, and when, to reduce the level of ferry services; when to conduct ferry dry dock; establishing a permanent Ferry Advisory Committee that would either “run the ferry” or act in an advisory capacity; revising the 55-45% formula; increasing the cost of single trip cash fares between June and September; and instituting a ferry taxing district;
PLIC Board Member Mike McKenzie gave a summary of what PLIC has accomplished. He stated the organization: evolved from a small beginning to include over 500 members; developed a strong and good relationship with the County to the point where the County now trusts PLIC; initiated creation of the Ferry Task Force; provided legal assistance to the County to the point that Dan Gibson acknowledges strong, positive and beneficial contributions from the PLIC attorneys particularly in relation to deadlines and establishing strategy; and influenced our Congressional delegation to support the continuing operation of the Gooseberry-Lummi Island ferry. Mike said that the end result – after 22 months — is the long-term retention of ferry services from Gooseberry to the island which was PLIC’s original and continuing goal.
PLIC Board President, Stuart Rich, asked meeting attendees to consider “where PLIC goes from here.” Ideas contributed included the following.
- PLIC should continue to offer a forum to inform and educate the community on ferry-related issues.
- PLIC should provide a forum through which Islanders can develop consensus on ferry-related issues.
- PLIC should help Islanders understand where candidates for public office stand on ferry-related issues.
- Fold PLIC into the Task Force.
- Push for an on-going Ferry Advisory Board.
- Lobby the County to be sure that Task Force recommendations are considered.
- Maintain rapport with County Council members.
- Release a detailed legal report outlining the legal positions etc taken by GTH.
Concern was expressed by several meeting participants over the “secrecy with which PLIC has operated.” The openness of the Ferry Task Force was cited in contrast.
The sentiment was expressed that Lummi Islanders should pay their fair share of ferry costs but should not be required to pay for costs that result from “County screw-ups.”
As a group, meeting attendees appeared to strongly support the creation of a permanent Ferry Board. Topics suggested as appropriate for the Board included: replacement of the Whatcom Chief, which Jim Dickinson said “now costs more to keep than to replace.”
The group appeared unanimous in asking PLIC to (1) help assure that the recommendations of the Ferry Task Force are taken seriously by the County and (2) demonstrate that the LI community (a) stands behind the validity of Task Force data, (b) recognizes the need for belt-tightening by all segments of Whatcom County – including Lummi Island and (c) believes that the recommendations made by the TF are the best options for a difficult situation.
Suggestions for methods to demonstrate that the LI community supports Task Force recommendations included:
- Circulate a petition to be signed by community members to support the TF recommendations.
- Conduct an email blast and mail an all-island letter describing the issues being weighed and showing the importance of all-Island support of the TF recommendations.
- Disseminate information handouts at ferry line, farmers’ market, etc to let the community know what needs to be done.
Finally, it was noted that the Task Force recommendations should be presented as beneficial to the County due to the very professional manner in which they were developed and because the recommendations support the County in effectively and fairly dealing with an important County responsibility.