Meeting Report: Part 2
The following is a summary of some highlights from Whatcom County Executive Jack Louws’ presentation about ferry issues at the public meeting held on Lummi Island on Tuesday May 19, 2015 (Nancy Ging and Wynne Lee, authors). About 120 people, mostly islanders, attended. Some non-tribal residents from Gooseberry Point also were present. Rhayma Blake, president of Protection Lummi Island Community (PLIC), published another, briefer summary on the PLIC website.
He next addressed the County’s position on the Lummi Nation’s new marina construction, as that will impact ferry docking at Gooseberry Pt. He described what he sees as a very exciting opportunity to work in partnership with Lummi Nation to carry out the project in two initial phases.
In Phase 1, the County and Lummi Nation would work together to get federal TIGER (Transportation Infrastructure Generating Economic Recovery) grants–a relatively new thing, so details are not yet fully available–and necessary permits, etc. for
- relocating and building a new ferry terminal at Gooseberry Pt., including staging and parking
- rebuilding or refurbishing the terminal on the Island, and
- building a new ferry.
Phase 1 (moving the dock) has to be completed before the Lummi Nation can carry out Phase 2 (funding and permitting their new marina and enlarging the fish processing plant). Louws believes that gives them every reason to support us in accomplishing these goals. In return, the County will support the Nation during Phase 2 funding and permitting efforts. The County and tribal leadership are trying to develop a working partnership for the project. Louws has already received a commitment from US Rep. Del Bene to help get the federal funding when both parties are ready to move ahead.
This will all take several years to accomplish. For one thing, Louws stressed that while this marina project is important to Lummi Nation, it is not their top priority at this time. Louws has been meeting with Lummi leaders monthly and the Lummi Nation is drafting a joint Memorandum of Understanding that will list the goals both groups want to achieve by the end of this project. This will be presented to County Council before Louws would sign it. That’s when the public will be able to provide input.
Next, Louws spoke about the Hiyu, a state-owned ferry that has been suggested as a possible interim replacement for the Whatcom Chief (or additional vessel) until a new ferry can be built. He thanked the group of islanders who hard worked to prepare their report on this option. Louws explained that the County spent about $8,000 for consultants to determine if the Hiyu would be a viable service option or not.
The three consultants reports indicated that at least $7,000,000 capital expenses would be required to adapt the docks on both sides and to adapt the vessel to T Class status (if the latter is even feasible). Those reports will soon be posted on the county’s Ferry site. Increased operating expenses were also projected. Louws emphasized that the Hiyu and the Whatcom Chief were built in the same generation, only five years apart. He sees acquiring the Hiyu as a “step to the side” instead of a “step into the future”. He believes the TIGER grants and a completely new vessel offer the best current opportunity to “step forward”. Louws concluded by saying that he will tell the County Council that he will not make a bid on the Hiyu if and when it becomes available for sale.
Finally, Louws addressed adjusting the ferry fares. The County set a goal several years ago to maintain a balance in the Ferry Fund equal to 90% of the previous year’s operating expenses. (authors’ note: we think this is just for the fare-based portion which is why the fund started with $1.5 million balance, but need tocheck). The fund is approaching that goal but isn’t there yet. While Louws doesn’t feel that the surcharges can be completely removed at this time, he does think a reduction of 25-40% of the surcharge might be possible for the most frequent ferry users. He said that LIFAC is already working with Public Works to develop a sustainable proposal to ensure that fares will be more stable into the future instead of changing frequently and so dramatically.
Louws’ presentation lasted about 25 minutes. Then, the written questions that had been submitted by citizens were read and responded to by Louws in the following Q&A session. Only a few of those questions needed to be set aside for answering later. The plan is for LIFAC to make answers available publicly.
A list of all of the questions has been published here, as promised by LICA and LIFAC, in a post that also has a link to the full audio of the entire meeting. That information also should be put in the Island Libary and shared with islanders via Paul Davis’s Brown Betty email service and other island communication channels