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Do islanders still want ferry repair yard?

As a year-long study of the ferry maintenance facility at Eagle Harbor begins, legislators want to know whether Bainbridge Island wants the facility.

The initial feedback suggests that the answer may be “No.”

“We are concerned about the city’s view,” said Terry McCarthy, acting director of the Washington State Ferries. “They want a long-range plan, and we have been unable to provide one.”

The objective of producing a long-range plan for the facility brought WSF officials, legislators and Bainbridge Island citizens to a Monday meeting held on board the ferry Quinault at the Eagle Harbor facility.

The meeting’s immediate purpose was to approve a request for proposals to conduct a study of the aging facility, which the ad-hoc legislative committee did by a unanimous vote.

The facility performs so-called “intermediate” maintenance – work that requires a boat to be taken out of service, but that does not require drydocks, large cranes or the other infrastructure of a commercial shipyard.

“It’s something like a pit stop you see in a NASCAR race,” said WSF maintenance director Mark Nitchmann. “Eagle Harbor is not and should not become a competitor to a commercial shipyard.”

Even with that restricted mission, refurbishing the 50-year-old facility will cost an estimated $104 million, Nitchmann said. Before committing money of that magnitude, the Legislature directed a study of possible alternatives, including total or partial relocation of the facility.

“What does the community think about the facility?” asked Rep. Brock Jackley (D-Manchester).

“The noise is unbearable. We can’t stay in our home when they are doing blasting work,” said R.G. Meyer of Ward Avenue, who lives directly across Eagle Harbor from the facility.

Eagle Harbor liveaboard Paul Svornich seconded that, claiming the noise is nearly constant.

And Mayor Dwight Sutton has publicly stated that he would favor moving the facility to Bremerton, where the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard has excess capacity. That shift would free up the Eagle Harbor land for marine-oriented mixed-use development.

But moving the facility isn’t easy, even if both Bainbridge and Bremerton are willing.

“I’m intrigued,” said McCarthy, “but every time we talk to PSNS, they tell us it’s a possibility – nothing definite. They have security concerns, and those have gotten worse, not better, in the light of recent events.”

The consultant’s study, along with comments from the ad-hoc committee, will be forwarded to the Legislature by Dec. 10 of 2002 – in time for the January 2003 session, which will craft the next two-year budget. The committee, which includes all of Bainbridge Island’s state legislators, agreed that part of their report will include input from affected communities.

But Sen. Georgia Gardner (D-Blaine), vice chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, warned that money may be the limiting factor.

“We have been trying for years to find money to replace ferries that date from 1927, and have been unable to do that,” she said. “While I understand your concern about stop-gap solutions for this facility, it may be the best we can do.”

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