Legislation that recently passed the U.S. House includes an earmark for $8 million for the Guemes Island all-electric ferry project — an amount that would mean the $19.5 million project is completely funded, according to Skagit County Public Works Director Dan Berentson.
If the Invest in America Act passes the U.S. Senate with the same earmark, the electric ferry project will be ready to go, according to U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Washington. He visited the Guemes Ferry terminal on Tuesday with several city, county and state officials as part of a tour throughout Congressional District 2.
Now is the time to push for passage in the Senate, he said.
Berentson said the county has worked hard to keep the current ferry running. At over 40 years old, it still makes more than 90% of its scheduled runs.
The ferry is considered an extension of the Skagit County road system, he said.
The county has been doing a great job fundraising, but it’s time for the federal government to invest, Larsen said.
Mayor Laurie Gere applauded the county for its forward-thinking in pushing to purchase an all-electric vessel.
“I am excited that you are investing in a ferry of tomorrow,” she said.
Much work is going on in Anacortes to build state-of-the-art vessels, so it’s exciting to have one being used for the Guemes Island ferry system, Gere said.
The switch from diesel power to all-electric is part of Larsen’s push to create a cleaner and greener ferry system in the state. The Invest in America act goes along with Larsen’s Green Ferries Act, which makes it easier for communities to invest in greener ferries and combat climate change, he said.
This money is a big deal for not only Anacortes and Guemes Island but for the state, said state Sen. Liz Lovelett, D-Anacortes.
Her father served as a captain on the ferry, and she often rode on it as a child. Later, when she taught yoga on the island, she remembers talking to the county commissioners about the needs of the ferry even before she ran for Anacortes City Council.
Now, she said she is pleased to see dedication on a federal level.
“It’s taken a whole village to get here,” she said. “We can show the whole state how it can be done.”
Tom Wooten, the chairman of the Samish Indian Nation, talked about how important Guemes Island is to the Samish people and how meaningful it would be to have an electric ferry running there.
“This is the heart of the Samish territory,” he said.
Jeremy “J.J.” Wilbur, vice-chairman to the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, said an electric ferry also would be an environmental benefit for the Salish Sea, part of the Swinomish traditional territory.
Reducing noise pollution from ferries would benefit marine life, he said.
Island residents need a ferry to go to work and school, as well as allowing first responders to provide care, Larsen said.
“Ferries are not a luxury, they are a necessity,” he said.
An electric ferry would help the environment, County Commissioner Ron Wesen said. It would mean less of a carbon footprint and a more cost-efficient vessel, he said.
“We are getting closer,” he said.