Cut in Sidney and Anacortes ferry service could have economic consequences

Cut in Sidney and Anacortes ferry service could have economic consequences
WatchThis will be the 99th year for the ferry service between Anacortes and Sidney when run resumes March 29th. But there will be one less boat on the run, meaning there may be days or even weeks when there is no ferry. Mary Griffin reports.

A perfect day for sailing. But the Washington State Ferry service between Sidney and Anacortes is out of service until March 29th. Locals say it’s a popular run.

“It’s totally packed here every time. Because we can’t get through here at 11:30, it’s closed because of customs and that. But it’s full.”   “It brings more business here from the Americans coming up as well. You know, they love it. They come on July fourth. Up here. A lot of them.”

When service resumes, it’ll operate with one less boat. The ferry service is retiring the 52-year old “Elwha”. That’s because it requires millions in upgrades, and Washington state is not funding the repairs. That leaves just one boat, the Chelan, to make the daily run from Anacortes to Sidney. And it will be pulled from service if it’s needed on one of the other routes operated by Washington State Ferries, delivering a blow to the local economy.

Ian Sterling, the spokesperson for Washington State Ferries, said it does happen from time to time. “That would lead to cancellation of the Sidney run for that particular day or week, or however long we need that vessel for. That’s a risk,” Sterling said.

Sidney mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith said the service is very successful.  “It’s really important to the vibrancy of the local area. And the region quite frankly. It’s an international port of entry so the benefit to tourism is quite significant,” McNeil-Smith said.

Washington State Ferries pay Sidney hundreds of thousands of dollars in lease payments, and taxes annually. And McNeil-Smith said ridership is growing. “The run was about 116,000 passengers last year. it has been trending upwards since the economic downturn 2012, 2013,” McNeil-Smith said.

Occasionally, there is talk of cutting service as the state looks to trim costs. But that has a cost as well, according to McNeil-Smith. “There are families, friends, tourism connections. it’s been multi-generational. and it’s really important to our community,” McNeil-Smith said.

The ferry will celebrate its 99th year of operations when it resumes service March 29th.

Mary GriffinMary Griffin

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