Kingston port will be netting $3 million for POFs

KINGSTON — Though the Port of Kingston was tight lipped about a $3.5 million Ferry Boat Discretionary Program federal grant at its monthly meeting Wednesday night, Washington State Department of Transportation federal liaison Larry Ehl said the funding has been allocated and it’s only a matter of time until the port receives the money. Though some of the funding could be skimmed off the top and redistributed to other federal causes, the POK has at least $3 million sailing it’s way in the near future.

A grant of this magnitude could buoy the operation of a new passenger-only ferry for Kingston, something commuters and residents have desperately been hoping for since the short-lived Aqua Express discontinued service almost two years ago.

“It could be used for the Kingston Express project, for a new ferry boat,” said Kingston Express Association Manager Nels Sultan. The KEA is working to start a volunteer run foot ferry between Kingston and Seattle. “Basically, it is flexible.”

The port and the KEA, however, have yet to sign a formal agreement, though Sultan reaffirmed the group’s desire to work with the POK at the meeting. The port has not unveiled any concrete plans with other organizations regarding running a foot ferry.

POK Commissioner Pete DeBoer said Tuesday the outlook of the two organizations working together was murky, though he didn’t rule out the possibility altogether.

“I don’t know exactly what the Kingston Express Association’s plan is,” he said. “It doesn’t support the port constituents very well. We’re going to work on the best deal we can for the port.”

Aqua Express gave North End commuters a taste of having a passenger-only ferry between Jan. 18, 2005 and Oct. 1, 2005, until the company was granted a suspension of service by the state. The run was shutdown due to lack of ridership and funding issues.

Support for the service took another hit Feb. 6 when a Kitsap Transit proposal to increase sales tax to fund passenger-only runs throughout the county was sunk by voters, 55 percent of whom were against the measure.

Aqua Express continues to work to renew its suspension of service while it brainstorms a new plan.

“We have heard rumors of the grant approval,” said Aqua Express spokesman Jim Boldt. “We have no details of it, and no communication with the port... We’ve always looked to all options to get a POF running in Kingston again.”

This grant could certainly give the effort a much-needed boost. DeBoer was wary to say whether the grant would be coming soon or not, but Ehl was confident after several issues were ironed out between the U.S. Department of Transportation and WSDOT, the funding would be awarded. Currently, the grant is lumped in with Urban Partnership grants, which deal with State Route 520 and the SR 520 bridge. Ehl said he is working to detach the ferry grants from those, as they are for different aspects of the highway system, so they can be made official in a more timely fashion.

“This is as done a deal as there ever could be,” Ehl said. “We’re just waiting to dot the Is and cross the Ts.”

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