On a fast boat to bad policy

"Leave it to the legislative season to kindle an outbreak of silliness. But we wouldn’t have predicted state Rep. Phil Rockefeller (D-Bainbridge Island) and Sen. Betti Sheldon (D-Bremerton) as the first agents of contagion.Alas, the pair this week announced plans to seek a legislative change to the State Environmental Policy Act, exempting high-speed foot-ferries from environmental review before they go into service on existing routes. The move would supposedly “clarify” the vessels’ future, after last summer’s landmark court ruling that hobbled the speedy Chinook for alleged wake damage to Rich Passage shorelines. A challenge to that ruling is still wending its way through the court system, but now in stride Phil and Betti to the wheelhouse, intent on saving the day."

  • Wednesday, January 12, 2000 11:00am
  • News

“Leave it to the legislative season to kindle an outbreak of silliness. But we wouldn’t have predicted state Rep. Phil Rockefeller (D-Bainbridge Island) and Sen. Betti Sheldon (D-Bremerton) as the first agents of contagion.Alas, the pair this week announced plans to seek a legislative change to the State Environmental Policy Act, exempting high-speed foot-ferries from environmental review before they go into service on existing routes. The move would supposedly “clarify” the vessels’ future, after last summer’s landmark court ruling that hobbled the speedy Chinook for alleged wake damage to Rich Passage shorelines. A challenge to that ruling is still wending its way through the court system, but now in stride Phil and Betti to the wheelhouse, intent on saving the day.“I’m grabbing at any straw I can” to save the fast-ferry program, Sheldon reportedly told a Seattle newspaper this week.While we appreciate the pair’s goal of using the Chinook to help resuscitate the economically moribund Bremerton area, their compass is spinning out of control. SEPA should be left alone. Adopted by the Legislature in 1971 and appended with more specific mandates several times over the years, the State Environmental Policy Act provides for at least a cursory review of most types of developments. The ubiquitous “SEPA checklist” impels those planning, say, a private housing project or a public roadway, to consider the potential impact on everything from natural systems to local infrastructure. The law is intended to ensure that “environmental amenities and values will be given appropriate consideration in decision-making, along with economic and technical considerations.”If Rockefeller is looking for clout around Puget Sound, his new “Ferry Caucus” is a fine start. The ad hoc group of legislators from districts that rely on WSF service should act with common purpose in saving the soon-to-be-crippled fleet.But as long as Washington State Ferries is still part of the highway system, adding newer, bigger or faster boats is analogous to adding new highway lanes – it has impact at both ends, and in the case of fast-ferry wake, perhaps the middle. Make an exemption here, and what’s the next piece of the highway system we’re going to spare from environmental review – new turnpikes? Oh, honestly. This kind of nonsense is something we’d expect from someone Tim Eyman’s speed, not from a pair of moderate legislators known for their circumspect ways.Note to Betti and Phil: Maybe you should be spending your time working on a funding plan that will save the foot-ferry program itself, or help create a loophole to allow a public-private foot-ferry authority. With no vessels in service, be they fast or slow, the environmental issue is moot.Taking up the banner for Bremerton does not justify the means – SEPA is the Washington environment’s best friend.So don’t fiddle with it. “

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