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deGavre: Drafted a letter about ferries he'd like San Juan County Council to send to the governor

Dear Editor, 

We are facing a bleak future for years to come on our ferry service. This is not understood by many. Thus I recommend our County Council debate the letter below and consider appropriate action:

Robert de Gavre's draft letter he wants the council to consider is posted below. 

I would appreciate your posting on your website the attached letter.

Dear Governor Inslee

The service provided by Washington State Ferries is existential to our community.  

You have served as Governor of our State for ten years since 2013. During your tenure in office, Washington State Ferries has experienced increasing unreliability in its operations, has eliminated some ferry runs indefinitely and has reduced service on other routes. During the most recent summer, 397 scheduled ferries - one out of twenty -  were cancelled on the San Juan/Anacortes routes, causing not only havoc for those directly affected, but also cascading disruptions and delays on the entire ferry system for the San Juan Islands. 

The unreliability of the ferries undermines the economy of our islands, jeopardizes the healthcare for our elderly community, increases the cost of living for all our citizens in a myriad of different ways, weakens our school programs, hollows out our middle class. It challenges the very existence of our community as a functional entity.

We hold you responsible as the Governor of our State. Your Administration failed to anticipate – or more probably ignored - the wave in retirement of WSF personnel that has now engulfed the system. And your Administration failed to build new ferries necessary to maintain WSF’s fleet. These failures are the reason - the sole reason - for the decline in service. They are also the reason why in the years to come our County will experience with almost absolute certainty further declines and possibly sharp declines in ferry reliability.

This is the legacy you will leave to our County and your successors in the Governor’s office. 

To be more specific:

During your tenure in office, WSF eliminated reimbursement for crew training and licensing at a time when it was known that the system was facing a tidal wave of retirements of senior and trained personnel. Recently steps have been taken to reverse these policies. But the long term damage was done.  It will be several if not many years before WSF has adequately trained personnel to staff not only its existing boats but also the greater number of boats required to restore routes and ensure operating reliability.  

During your tenure in office, the number of boats in WSF’s fleet declined from 23 to 21 as old – if not antique – boats were retired but with no boats built to offset the retirements. According to WSF, the system needs 26 boats to operate on a reliable basis. With only 21 boats WSF cannot properly maintain its fleet to achieve operational reliability. The twelve-month withdrawal of boats for electric conversion will only add further stress to an already overstressed fleet. 

In July 2020 MV Elwha was prematurely taken out of service and ultimately retired reducing fleet size from 21 to 20. Olympia expressed concerns about costs for overhauling the Elwha but did not consider – or again probably ignored – the incalculable costs of maintaining the same tempo of operations. The retirement of the Elwha arguably was the straw that broke the camel’s back. 

It has been over three years since the Elwha was withdrawn from service and well over one year since discussions with Seattle’s Vigor Shipyard, the primary builder of WSF’s ferries for the last two decades, were terminated. Yet there are still no contracts to build new boats, no bids, no RFP documents sent to shipyards soliciting bids. The RFP documents for new ferries have not yet even been prepared for distribution to shipyards across the nation. They are not scheduled to be distributed until well into next year at the very best. 

It will be a Herculean task to rebuild the fleet to 23 boats and also to replace the 8 boats scheduled to be retired by 2030 at the end of their 60-year life. A total of 10 new boats should enter service by 2030. Given your Administration’s actions to date, building 10 new boats in the next 6 years is clearly improbable. 

Thus for the indefinite future, ferry reliability will almost certainly decline as an already aged fleet operates roughly 15-20 hours per day, seven days per week without adequate time in the yards for maintenance. WSF’s 2040 Long Range Plan explicitly warned that the risk to service reliability will grow each year.

Thus, with great regret and sadness and with respect to you as Governor of our State, our County Council has unanimously adopted the following two [three] resolutions:

  1. San Juan County Council will request its Treasurer to sequester and place in escrow all State taxes and fees collected by the County on behalf of the State until it is beyond doubt that the State has irrevocably contracted and funded new ferries for delivery by 2030 sufficient in number (i) to replace most of the 8 boats scheduled to be retired prior to 2030 in WSF’s Long Range Plan and (ii) to re-build the fleet to a minimum of 23 boats. 
  2. San Juan County Council will contact all ferry served communities inviting them to join with us in withholding funds from the State.

[3. San Juan County will distribute this letter to the media.] 


San Juan County Council