July 11, 2004

Kingston-Seattle ferry service approved

A ferry that was sold on Ebay could soon be back in service.

Passenger-only ferry between Kingston and Seattle has been approved by Washington State regulators.

The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC) on Friday approved a request by Aqua Express to provide passenger-only ferry service between Kitsap and King counties.

Aqua Express plans to use the 292 passenger vessel Tyee, which Washington State Ferries sold on an on-line auction for $560,000 last November after ending passenger-only services. The buyer was a Florida boat broker.

Tyee was built in 1986 by Nichols Boat Builders, which has a 25% interest in Aqua Express.

Aqua Express is a Limited Liability Corporation whose other members, according to the application filed with the UTC, are Clipper Navigation, Inc. (25%), , Argosy L.P. (25%) and Four Seasons Marine Services Corp. (25%). The managing member is named as John Blackman of Seattle

"There is a substantial need for the proposed passenger-only ferry service between Kingston and Seattle, and a strong desire by the public for such a service," said the three-member commission. The WUTC is the state agency in charge of regulating private commercial ferries operating within Washington state.

The company filed its application at the commission on April 8. Evidentiary and public hearings took place in Olympia and Kingston in June and July. The commission received more than 50 comments from members of the public, overwhelmingly in favor of the company's permit.

The Inlandboatmen's Union of the Pacific (IBU) withdrew its initial protest to Aqua Express's application on June 30. The commission did, however, consider the issues raised by the union. In deciding to grant the Aqua Express permit, the WUTC must determine whether a need exists, whether the company has sufficient resources to operate the proposed service, and evaluate how it affects public agencies such as the Washington State Ferries.

"Indeed, the net effect complements the underlying purposes of the state transportation system, including the efficient and convenient transportation of people, car and goods across or around bodies of water," said the commissioners in their written order. "We applaud the efforts of the company, Kitsap Transit and state and local representatives who have worked long and hard to promote passenger-only ferry service between Kingston and Seattle."

The WUTC also recently granted Kitsap Ferry Co. a temporary permit to operate passenger-only service between Bremerton and Seattle while a permanent application is pending before the commission. (Docket 040794).

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