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A much-needed and much-anticipated new ferry will be built to serve the Keller Ferry run and the surrounding communities.
The state's transportation budget passed the Legislature just hours before the 2011 regular session adjourned on Friday, April 22. Seventh Legislative District lawmakers worked diligently with transportation leaders in the House, Rep. Judy Clibborn, R-Mercer Island, and Rep. Mike Armstrong, R-Wenatchee, to see that money was included in the final transportation funding proposal to replace one of the state's oldest and non-Puget Sound ferries.
"I am absolutely thrilled," said Rep. Shelly Short, R-Addy. "The surrounding communities, students, farmers and ranchers depend on this ferry for so many aspects of their daily lives. With the current boat clearly in need of repair, it was only a matter of time before it was deemed unsafe and permanently retired from service. With funding for a new boat assured, the Keller Ferry will continue to serve local residents safely and timely for years to come."
Short worked with the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation two years ago to arrange a tour of the Keller Ferry by members of the state House Transportation Committee, congressional staff and representatives from the governor's office. This was at a time when the current boat, the "Martha S.," had been temporarily suspended from service while repairs were made to a section of the hull that had rusted through.
Short said the efforts made two years ago helped set the stage for successful funding of a new ferry in this year's transportation budget.
"We had great participation from the Colville tribe, the communities and the Department of Transportation," Short said. "The Keller Ferry's importance to the local communities really began to sink in to committee members at that time and I just think folks started to seriously ask themselves, 'How can we make this work?' This shows what we can do when everyone is working together with the same vision toward the same goal."
Short said the decision to fund a new boat was made only after a thorough analysis was done and every other option explored.
"We looked at purchasing a used boat and retrofitting it to meet our needs; we looked at completely refurbishing the existing boat. But in the end, the safest and most cost-effective long-term solution was to build a new boat,"
The new boat will be in the same "under 100 ton class" as the current boat. It will be an open deck design large enough to carry 20 cars or two semi trucks. The transportation budget includes about $12 million while the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation are expected to contribute around $2 million.
Sen. Bob Morton, R-Kettle Falls, stressed that funding for a new ferry was only possible because of the massive amount of work done to get everyone onboard early. He singled out the chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, and thanked her for including the funding in her transportation budget.
"Really, there are too many people to list," Morton said. "From agency folks, to Congressional staff; from local community leaders, to tribal leaders. The new Keller Ferry took a lot of work by a lot of people. But I do want to especially thank my friend and colleague, Sen. Haugen, for being open throughout the process and for being able to see the needs of communities on the other side of the mountains. As a resident of Camano Island, she knows how important ferries are to the local communities. She really stepped up to the plate and deserves a lot of credit for helping us out."
The new ferry, which has yet to be officially named, is expected to be bid-out sometime this summer and could be ready for service by the spring of 2013.
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