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Samish contributes to efforts to save ferry run

ANACORTES, Wash. – The Samish Indian Nation is contributing financially and lending its voice to lobbying efforts to save a state ferry route that is on the chopping block.

Washington State Ferries is proposing eliminating one of the ferries serving the San Juan Islands, which would mean no more service from Anacortes to Sidney, Vancouver Island, B.C. That would force travelers bound for Vancouver Island to drive 85 miles north to Tsawwassen, in lower mainland British Columbia, and take a B.C. ferry to Vancouver Island.

Coast Salish peoples in the U.S. and on Vancouver Island have cultural and family ties and depend on the Anacortes-to-Sidney run, Samish leaders say. Leaders are also concerned about the economic impact to their community and the region.

According to a study by E.D. Hovee and Company, in 2006, about 131,600 passengers rode the ferry between Anacortes and Sidney. About 1,470 jobs with more than $30 million in annual payroll and nearly $126 million in annual spending are directly and indirectly associated with this ferry service within the Northern Puget Sound region. The state receives $4.6 million a year in taxes related to the ferry run. And local jurisdictions collect $1.3 million in tax receipts annually.

The state argues that by eliminating the ferry run it would reduce its debt load by $9.4 million over a number of years. But officials – including Rep. Jeff Morris, who is Tsimshian with Samish ties – doubt that savings. Gov. Christine Gregoire proposes spending $11.7 million on an Enhanced Driver License program which would allow Americans and Canadians more efficient border crossings. A proposed ferry ticket reservation system would cost $12 million to implement.

Richard Walker is a correspondent reporting from San Juan Island, Wash. Contact him at rmwalker@rockisland.com.