On Tuesday, the Grays Harbor Transit Board signed an agreement with Westport and Ocean Shores to work on a plan to create a foot-passenger ferry that would travel between the two coastal cities.
The transit board unanimously approved the inter-local agreement, which proposes “jointly developing an economically feasible plan to create a ferry system” with “regularly scheduled, dependable, frequent passenger ferry travel” between the cities.
The partnership is just at the beginning planning stage.
Ocean Shores Mayor Crystal Dingler said the two cities and Grays Harbor Transit have been meeting for much of the past year. The Quinault Indian Nation, owner of the marina at Ocean Shores, has often had a representative at the meetings, she said.
They thought it would be beneficial to sign a joint agreement of support for the project as they begin looking to apply for state funding, she said.
“We felt it was important to show our interest and solidarity on the project, and putting together an inter-local agreement seemed like a logical step,” said Dingler, who wrote the agreement.
Grays Harbor Transit was the last of the three groups to sign the agreement, as Westport and Ocean Shores’ city councils already approved it. The transit board is comprised of its General Manager Ken Mehin, along with the three Grays Harbor County Commissioners and the mayors of Aberdeen, Hoquiam and Cosmopolis.
This is an early agreement to show support for the ferry project, and does not legally or financially bind the three stakeholders in any way.
If the ferry obtains full funding, Grays Harbor Transit would be the ones to operate it, according to Mehin.
“Basically, when we get the funding for the operation, (Grays Harbor) Transit is going to take over, and provide the service,” Mehin said following Tuesday’s meeting. He added it would be a similar passenger-only ferry service to those in Kitsap and King counties, and that Kitsap Transit has reached out to assist with the Ocean Shores to Westport ferry.
There’s no funding in place yet, but Mehin said Grays Harbor Transit would look to purchase a ferry capable of holding between 200 to 250 passengers.
“Who knows, it might take 10 years to fill the boat to maximum capacity, or maybe two years,” he said. “We want to have the capacity for expansion.”
The service would have regular hours, and Dingler said the bus services would also be adjusted to line up with the docking times for the ferry.
The last time a ferry existed between the two cities was in 2008, according to The North Coast News, and it had existed off and on since the mid 1980s, sometimes in the form of a converted charter boat. Without the ferry, it takes about an hour and a half to drive all the way around Grays Harbor to get from Ocean Shores to Westport.
A major incentive for the ferry is to improve the local economies by allowing visitors and city residents to more easily travel between the cities.
“If we increase tourism even by 5 percent, if people decided to spend an extra day in the hotel, that’s huge,” said Dingler.
A potentially pricey aspect of the ferry is how to land the ferry on the Ocean Shores side. The old Ocean Shores Marina is currently in a dilapidated state, in need of dredging.
Dingler said the next step is to work with a consultant to help flesh out the logistics of the project before reaching out to state representatives and other agencies for funding.
“The marina, if it’s going to be sold and rehabbed, we get into a lot of ifs there,” said Dingler. “Dredging is pretty expensive. If we can do it some other way that requires minimal dredging that would be great.”
Currently, Dingler said they are looking at using a catamaran-style boat, which could be landed directly on the shoreline if necessary.
Mehin noted there’s also the option to build a boat landing to the side of the marina, and said that would be a less expensive option.