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Wednesday, March 03, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

2 firms clear ferry-service hurdle

By Susan Gilmore
Seattle Times staff reporter

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Passenger-only ferry service may soon be restored between Seattle and Kitsap County after the Kitsap Transit Board voted yesterday to allow private operators to seek state permission to operate on two routes.

"It's a very significant action for the community to step forward and have the courage to do this," said Cary Bozeman, Bremerton mayor and member of the transit board. "This will not be perfect and there will be bumps in the road, but the service is critical to our revitalization."

The unanimous vote means Pacific Navigation and Aqua Express, which want to run passenger-only ferries between Bremerton and Seattle and between Kingston and Seattle, respectively, can go to the state Utilities and Transportation Commission to win approval to operate on those routes.

If they get that approval, the operators would sign an agreement with Kitsap Transit agreeing to a complex set of regulations, including the requirement that if the private operators can't provide the service, the operating certificate will be given to Kitsap Transit or another operator it designates. By law, Kitsap Transit has exclusive right to those routes until 2005.

Greg Dronkert, president of Pacific Navigation, which proposes a passenger-ferry run between Bremerton and Seattle, said the agreement doesn't give his company the exclusive right to pursue the route and that there's nothing to stop another company from challenging Pacific Navigation.

But he said he knows of no other firm looking at the route and that his company is well-positioned to take over the run.

"We have the crew, the equipment and the desire," he said. "We're extremely excited about this."

Yesterday's vote ended months of negotiations after the state, in a money-saving move, cut most passenger-only service last September. A vote for Kitsap Transit to raise taxes to take over the passenger-ferry service failed last November.

The companies must now go to the UTC to win permission to operate on the two routes. Objections to the applications can then be made for 30 days, during which protests could be filed and competing applications could be made, said Bonnie Allen, with the UTC.

She said the applications then will go to an administrative-law judge to determine the need for the service. The commission would issue the final order. Allen said the whole process could be completed in two to three months.
 
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Dronkert said he hopes to begin service this summer, while Aqua Express wants to run the first Kingston-Seattle ferries this fall.

Another company, the Mosquito Fleet, which operates between Everett and Friday Harbor, is interested in a Southworth-Seattle route.

Tom Tougas, with Aqua Express, said he sees two groups of customers for his Kingston route, those who live in Kingston and those who live in Port Townsend, Port Ludlow and Poulsbo. He said he envisions a 45-minute crossing, although it may be faster.

Both companies say the round-trip fares will be about $10.

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or sgilmore@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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