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Ferry chief floats idea of natural gas for ferries

He’s been to venues in Vashon and Bremerton. Soon he will stand in front of audiences in Kingston, Anacortes and on to the San Juan Islands.

But on Monday the nine-city Washington State Ferries tour brought David Moseley to rock a stage on Bainbridge Island.

Moseley’s tour across ferry hubs throughout the Puget Sound might not be as riveting as most appearances that take a stage, but the assistant secretary of state’s ferry system did have a boatload of information to share with commuters at the island’s museum of art this week.

The hottest topics proved to be possibilities for liquified natural gas as fuel for ferries, and the looming replacement of Coleman Dock — the terminal that receives island and Bremerton commuters on the Seattle side of Puget Sound.

“We’ve got to replace the pilings under Coleman Dock from the south end of the terminal building all the way to the north end near the fire station,” Moseley said.

“All of that is on wood, creosote pilings that were put in a long time ago, some when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president.”

But the conversation with the audience — though brief — that seemed to pique Moseley’s interest the most was a suggestion of establishing a first-class-only area on the ferries that run between Bainbridge Island and Seattle.

“What would that service include?” Moseley asked the audience member who made the suggestion.

The suggestion included first-on, first-off privileges and cocktail service.

The idea came amidst Moseley’s attempts to detail the realities of ferry funding.

“The ferry system is not financially sustainable at our current state. It’s not sustainable over the long term,” he said. “Long term, we need to address this fundamental financial instability. To date we haven’t been able to achieve that.”

Moseley said that he has hope that coming legislative sessions can help solve funding problems for a system that serves more than 22 million riders every year.

Part of the solution the ferry system has provided so far is a reduction in services that amount to approximately $5 million. No reductions have been planned for Bainbridge Island.

Other help might come from exploring new fuel options for the ferries. Fuel is a major expense, and adds up to $67.3 million to cover the 17 million gallons of diesel fuel annually.

To put that cost in perspective, that price tag was just over $15 million 12 years ago.

Liquified natural gas could potentially cut the fuel cost in half while also reducing emissions harmful to the environment. The Coast Guard has given a thumbs up to Washington State Ferries’ plans to retrofit the ferries in the Issaquah and Olympic classes with natural gas systems.

The move still stirred concern at the Bainbridge Island meeting, mainly because current proposals include placing natural gas tanks on the roofs of the ferries.

Moseley said the proposal posed no danger to travelers.

“The Coast Guard wouldn’t approve of this if there were any concerns,” he said.

Moseley added that he thinks liquified natural gas is a transitional fuel and that 40 years from now, solar and wind power may play a role in powering ferries. He also said that the ferry M/V Hyak is being looked at for possible upgrades to a hybrid system.

Coleman Dock will be another big change for ferry riders. The wood pilings that hold up the ferry terminal building are showing serious signs of age.

“Our test show they are losing strength,” Moseley said. “Our worst pilings are right underneath the terminal building. We have to tear down the terminal building and build a new one.”

“We do have an opportunity to upgrade the usefulness and appearance of the terminal,” he added.

Bainbridge Councilwoman Anne Blair was in the audience and noted her concern that a new terminal won’t be expanded enough for the rising needs of riders.

“When (the ferries) don’t flow smoothly, it impacts the island in a breathtaking way,” she said. “We become a parking lot.

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