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Originally published August 31, 2011 at 5:08 PM | Page modified September 1, 2011 at 11:05 AM

$1.3M federal grant for Port Townsend-Seattle ferry

The Port of Port Townsend has received a $1.3 million federal grant to begin passenger-ferry service between Port Townsend and Seattle.

Seattle Times staff reporter

quotes "Haven't we been hearing a constant drum beat about how the Washington State ferry... Read more
quotes Yeah, there is such a demand for a passenger ferry from Seattle to Port Townsend. If... Read more
quotes 49 Passengers x $25 = $1225 ...and that's if it's full every trip...remember that... Read more

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The Port of Port Townsend has received a $1.3 million federal grant to begin passenger-ferry service between Port Townsend and Seattle.

Port officials hope to have the ferry operating by 2013.

"I think it's a big deal for bringing visitors in from Seattle," said Christina Pivarnik, Port Townsend marketing director. "Seattle residents love to come to Port Townsend and not have to bring their cars."

She said tourism is a $50 million-a-year industry in Port Townsend.

Larry Crockett, port executive director, said he was surprised to learn he'd won the federal grant after the port had failed in previous grant applications.

He said the money will be used to build a 49-passenger ferry, which will be privately operated. "This community for the last decade has been beating the ferry drum," Crockett said. "It will be a great amenity for our community."

Unlike other passenger ferries in Puget Sound, this won't target commuters, but tourists. In fact, the earliest it could even dock in Seattle is 10 a.m. because of other competition for the passenger-ferry dock next to Colman Dock.

Riding the boat won't be cheap. Crockett said the port is considering fares from $20 to $25 each way.

A passenger ferry did operate briefly on that route around Christmas in 2007 to help the businesses through the holidays after the state shut down the old car ferries that served Port Townsend.

Crockett said the crossing will take about 75 minutes, much faster than the 2 ½ hours it takes to drive from Seattle to Port Townsend.

While the federal grant will pay for a new ferry, it won't pay operating costs, and that could be a problem, Crockett acknowledged. High fuel cost and low ridership caused a Kingston-Seattle passenger ferry to go out of business, and the new Kingston-Seattle ferry operated by the Port of Kingston still struggles.

Crockett said the boat operator will set the fares and decide whether it's financially viable. He said the boat might just operate during the summer and possibly during the Christmas holidays.

The state, which operates the car ferry from Coupeville to Port Townsend, has no problem with a new passenger ferry. "Since we don't provide passenger-ferry service, we applaud our communities' efforts to provide any service they can," said Marta Coursey, spokeswoman for Washington State Ferries. "We hope they succeed. We all benefit from having more people go to our communities."

John Collins, a Port Townsend port commissioner, said he thinks a new boat could be purchased for about $1 million, and said fuel consumption is critical in trying to make the boat financially viable. Collins said the port envisions a vessel that would be 80 percent tourists and 20 percent commuters.

He said there are no plans to raise taxes to operate the boat.

Port Townsend officials say they particularly hope to attract those coming to Seattle for conventions or to join a cruise ship, where visitors often have an extra day to spend in the area.

Tom Norwalk, president and Chief Executive Officer of Seattle's Convention and Visitors Bureau, has been a big promoter of a Port Townsend ferry.

"When visitors are in the region, they're looking for a day trip, one additional day away in the area, and this gives them a great option ... We're pretty excited about it," Norwalk said.

He said the waterfront connection should draw visitors, and the convention bureau will promote it at international meetings.

As for cruise-ship patrons, "this is exactly the kind of thing they would be excited to do," Norwalk said.

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

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