This photo from 1922 shows The Harvest King setting sail to Anacortes from Sidney. (Courtesy of Sidney Museum and Archives)

Officials concerned for future of Vancouver Island-Washington State ferry link

116,000 passengers travelled on the Sidney-Anacortes route during its nine-month operation last year

Civic officials on both sides of the border are concerned about the future of an American ferry linking Vancouver Island Washington State.

Sidney Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith warns of economic consequences for both ends of the ferry route between Sidney and Anacortes, WA if the state does not fund a second vessel for the route.

The proposed budget before the Washington State legislature maintains full funding for the ferry MV Chelan, but currently lacks repair funding for the Elwha, one of two vessels in the fleet Washington State Ferries (WSF) certified for the international crossing, along with the Chelan.

If WSF retires the 53-year-old Elwha with its long history of repairs, the Chelan would remain the only vehicle certified to make the international crossing, a situation that would threaten the reliability of service between the two communities. If the Chelan were to break down, WSF would lack a back-up vessel.

A second issue concerns the possibility that WSF may press the Chelan into service on domestic routes in case other vessels break down. According to published reports in Washington State media, WSF needs 19 vessels to run its summer routes and at least two WSF ferries out for maintenance at any given time. If the Elwha were to retire, WSF would be down to 21 vessels. Washington State has funded a new vessel, a hybrid-electric ferry, but it won’t be available until 2023, according to published reports.

RELATED: Washington State Ferries to suspend service to Sidney for almost a month

McNeil-Smith said he has been in discussions with Mayor Laurie Gere from Sidney’s sister city of Anacortes. “The sustainability of the ferry route is an enormous concern to both of our communities from a tourism and economic standpoint,” he said.

Just over 116,000 passengers travelled on the route during its nine-month operation last year, with a five per cent increase in vehicle passengers and an eight per cent increase in foot passengers. These figures are significant for the tourism business in Sidney and the region, McNeil-Smith said, adding that generations of families, friends, businesses and tourists have relied on this service since its start 99 years ago. Sidney also receives just over $250,000 in ferry terminal lease payments and direct municipal taxes.

McNeil-Smith said he and Gere have been in touch with WSF, as well as elected officials in Washington State to express their respective concerns.

McNeil-Smith said WSF has told the municipality that completion of Washington State budgets will be finalized in early March and Sidney is keeping an eye on the situation. “WSF will then confirm the level of service to be provided,” he said, adding that local representatives on the local and federal levels are aware of the situation.

Ferry service between Anacortes and Sidney resumes Sunday, March 29 with a ceremony featuring elected officials from both sides.

“We are doing it for the 99th time this year, and look forward to celebrating 100 years next year,” he said.

“The best outcome is that the budgets are approved as per WSF’s request [for two vessels] and that they can provide the level of service that they want to with the Chelan, that there is a minimum of disruption to that service through the season.”


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