Recent comments from officials representing Washington State Ferries (WSF) offer a case of bad-news, good-news for the future of the ferry connecting Sidney with the United States.
Ian Sterling, spokesperson for Washington State Ferries, has confirmed the Sidney-to-Anacortes route remains suspended until further notice, with no reason to expect a change before the end of peak season – at the end of September. Service between the sister communities of Sidney and Anacortes ceased in March 2020 because of international restrictions spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Historically, WSF offers one daily round-trip sailing during the second quarter and fourth quarter of any calendar year, two daily round-trip sailings during the third (summer) quarter, while suspending service during the opening quarter.
Sterling also confirmed WSF has no plans to discontinue service to Sidney in the long term, adding that the governor’s budget includes funds to keep that route going.
While the route arguably appears as the least important route in Washington State’s ferry system in accounting for 0.5 per cent of the system’s total passengers in 2019, it bears significant historical, cultural and economic significance for the region.
Ferries have operated between Sidney and Anacortes for nearly a century, first under private ownership, then by WSF since 1951. This said, the WSF has faced a number of technical issues and political pressures around the route.
The April 2020 retirement of the MV Elwha left Washington State Ferries with one vessel — the MV Chelan, itself more than 50 years old — capable of servicing the route under the Safety of Life at Sea certification standards for vessels operating in international waters.
“We’re down to a 21 vessel fleet as boats age out and are retired from duty,” said Sterling. “Not long ago there were 24.”
Sterling said a new build program is just getting rolling. “We’re currently funded to start on one new boat with unfunded (as of now) plans for a total of five new boats (for the entire fleet),” he said. “They will all be capable of running on 100 per cent battery power which is pretty cool.”
Washington State politicians have also explored ways to trim costs.
Supporters of the status quo though recently received some good news when a state-commissioned study a found privately-run auto ferry between Sidney and Anacortes, WA., feasible, only to raise a number of legal, logistical and local political issues that will complicate any major changes.
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