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All aboard with new ‘captain’

He may not have the answers yet, but the new head of Washington State Ferries will be on Bainbridge next week to hear the questions.

David Moseley, who was appointed Assistant Secretary of Transportation in charge of ferries last month, will attend a March 24 meeting of the Bainbridge Ferry Advisory Committee along with members of the state Transportation Commission.

It will be the first in a series of FAC meetings that will give Moseley an introduction to ferry-served communities.

“My role is primarily to go out and listen and learn from the community,” Moseley said.

He said the Monday meeting will primarily focus on the continuing ferry system studies spawned by a 2007 ferry bill.

One study is being conducted by the state Transportation Commission to consider long-term financing while the Legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee is studying administrative and capital costs. The results of those studies are expected by next fall, and state officials hope they will provide the foundation needed to develop a long-term financial plan and 16-year capital budget.

Islander Martha Burke, who chairs both the Bainbridge FAC and the Executive Committee of FACs, said fares will be foremost in the minds of Bainbridge ferry users as those plans are drafted. WSF needs to find a steady revenue source that doesn’t flow from commuter’s wallets, she said.

“I don’t think it’s going to be an easy task to get that, but I think that’s a big thing that (Moseley) will need to do,” Burke said. “In past years it has all happened on the backs of commuters.”

Fares have increasingly shouldered the burden of operations costs since ferry funding was slashed in 1999 when voters passed Initiative 695, a measure later reaffirmed by legislature.

A 2007 ferry bill froze fares until 2009, and state leaders will take a hard look at revenue options over the next year, Moseley said.

“I’m certainly aware that fares have risen in recent years,” he said. “I’ve said it before, we’re stretching the limit of what we can anticipate from farebox returns.”

Another nagging concern for islanders is the future of WSF’s Eagle Harbor maintenance yard, the center of a recent legal spat between the agency and the city.

The city wanted greater environmental scrutiny of a planned expansion, but WSF won an appeal last month to maintain lead agency status on the project.

Some in the community are calling for WSF to honor an agreement with the city to install a boat haulout on the property. Others would like to see the yard moved off the island for good.

Moseley said he has not had time to familiarize himself with all the details of the maintenance yard and the dispute with the city, but he does plan to try to warm relations. He will meet with Mayor Darlene Kordonowy before the FAC meeting.

“We want to work very cooperatively moving forward,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we’re always going to agree on everything.”

Before taking the assistant secretaryship, Moseley served as the city manager of Federal Way and is vice president of the Institute for Community Change in Seattle.

He succeeded WSF Executive Director Mike Anderson, who played an active role in dealings with the City of Bainbridge Island.

Moseley’s boss, Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond, is also new to Olympia, and together they will head a Transportation Department that is being absorbed into Gov. Christine Gregoire’s cabinet.

Since taking his post, Moseley said he has targeted four priorities. The first, and most urgent, is the building of new boats to replace the geriatrics among the fleet. Legislature voted to fund new ferry construction in its 2008 session, and WSF plans to seek bids for its first new ferry later this month, Moseley said.

“We’re very strapped, because we don’t haven’t had the backup boats and if a boat breaks down, we’re in trouble,” he said.

Keeping construction and maintenance efforts from inhibiting service will be another priority, along with community outreach and the working with the results of the ongoing studies.

“All of these are very time consuming and very important,” Moseley said. “Juggling them all has probably been the biggest challenge.”

Burke, who was on the selection committee that chose Moseley, said he is an intelligent director who she believes can bring change to the system. But islanders should be patient while the big answers are formed.

“This is more about laying the groundwork,” she said. “And it will be a chance for people to meet him, and that’s good.”

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Meet David Moseley, state Assistant Secretary of Transportation in charge of ferries, at the Bainbridge Ferry Advisory Committee meeting in the Bainbridge Commons March 24 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

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