BELLINGHAM, Wash. (AP) – Ferry service to Lummi Island could see big changes if the Lummi Nation moves forward with ambitious plans to redevelop land for habitat and moorage.
A new lease being negotiated between the tribe and Whatcom County could lead to higher fares on the only public transportation between the small island and mainland Whatcom County.
But the tribe’s plans would also require a new location for the mainland ferry dock eventually, according to Frank Abart, Whatcom County’s public works director. The mainland dock, at Gooseberry Point, is on tribal land.
The tribe is not commenting at length about its plans, but a draft summary provided to the county indicates the tribe is planning a $21 million project that would provide a sheltered moorage area by constructing artificial islands offshore, instead of a traditional breakwater.
The artificial islands would provide calm water for pleasure boats and the tribal fishing fleet, and provide habitat for birds and fish while protecting the shoreline from storm surges.
The draft summary says the tribe would like to begin the project soon enough to qualify for federal stimulus money. The plans also have tribal council approval.
“They want to do things with their property, and I can’t begrudge them that,” Abart told The Bellingham Herald.
Abart expects to have a new five-year lease agreement for the current ferry dock in place well before the county’s existing 25-year lease with the tribe expires Feb. 14, 2010. That extension would give the county and tribe time to find a new site for the mainland ferry dock.
“My goal is to have this moved out and even agreed upon by both entities by the end of this year,” Abart said. “We’re getting pretty close.”
How much the new lease will cost the county is still being determined. The county compensated the tribe with a land transfer when the current 25-year deal was struck, and the county has paid no cash to the tribe for the lease since then.
Abart said the tribe is seeking a $300,000 payment for the five-year extension, plus a still-to-be-determined “treaty fishing rights fee” for each ferry trip.
Ferry users could expect to pay a portion of any added cost, since by ordinance fares are required to cover at least 55 percent of the county’s ferry expense. The rest comes from county road funds.
A new dock would be expensive, but precise figures won’t be available until a site and design is agreed upon.
The ferry is the only way to get to Lummi Island, other than by private boat. In 2008, the Whatcom Chief made 12,626 trips.
The eventual need for a new mainland ferry dock site first surfaced in 2006, when the tribe obtained a $50,000 grant from the Washington Community Economic Revitalization Board to study the feasibility of a new marina at Gooseberry Point.
Polly Hanson, who operates the West Shore Farm bed and breakfast on the island, said the likely changes in the ferry system will have side effects for island residents. Moving the ferry dock would mean longer trips, and those trips can already be a bit dangerous in fierce winter weather.
Hanson’s also concerned that if added costs increase fares, it will become increasingly difficult for lower-income island residents to remain there.
“It will become a refuge for the incredibly rich.”
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