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Ferry yard dispute is heading to court

Permits are on hold until the dispute over environmental impacts is resolved.

The city is taking Washington State Ferries to court over an environmental review of upgrades underway at the ferry maintenance facility on Eagle Harbor.

“Our question is, what is the aggregate impact of the facility?” said City Administrator Mary Jo Briggs of the appeal filed Wednesday in the Kitsap County Superior Court. “We want to know the whole impact of it.”

The city disputes the ferry system’s determination in early March that an environmental review is not necessary for the $40 million maintenance yard improvement project. Also objectionable is WSF’s piecemeal view of its project, which doesn’t take into account the broader environmental impacts, said city officials.

According to city documents submitted to the superior court, WSF did not “accurately identify or adequately mitigate the potential significant adverse environmental impacts from the project as a whole, but rather improperly ‘phased’ the project into a smaller, fragmented action.”

WSF issued the determination under its authority as “lead agency” under the state Environmental Policy Act, which allows public agencies to conduct environmental reviews of their own projects rather than being scrutinized by other agencies.

Last week, the City Council voted to challenge WSF’s lead agency status and to transfer that authority to the city. This action would pass any environmental review of the maintenance yard into the city’s hands.

The maintenance yard is slated to undergo building repair, a parking lot reconfiguration and piling removal. Because the yard was designated a hazardous waste site under the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund list, some community activists stress the importance of a thorough and independent environmental review.

“Because the work (WSF) is doing is at and in the waterfront and seabed near substantial contamination, there needs to be good environmental stewardship of what’s going on,” said John Doershuck, a member of Reclaim Our Waterfront, a citizen group calling for the maintenance yard’s removal from the harbor.

Doerschuck commended the city for challenging WSF’s review.

“I’m all for it,” he said. “The ferry system has run afoul of reasonable process. The right process is there to protect our community and environment. It should be a clear and systematic review and not conducted” by the state ferry system.

The appeal’s immediate impact includes a freeze on the yard’s construction permits.

“Until there’s some sort of conclusion, their permits are on hold,” said Briggs.

But ferry officials say they’ll push ahead with planned projects.

“It’s not on hold,” said WSF spokeswoman Joy Goldenberg. “It’s not shut down. We need the (maintenance yard) not just for Bainbridge, but for the entire system. It cannot be delayed.”

The appeal process and any future setbacks do not endanger the millions of dollars slated for the upgrades.

“The Legislature was very clear that that $38 million was for the project,” said Goldenberg.

No court date has been set for the appeal, according to Briggs.

“We’re in waiting mode right now,” Goldenberg said. “We just filed the appeal and now we’ll have to see where this goes.”

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