Shaw ferry terminal’s uncertain future

Operation of the Shaw ferry terminal is back in the hands of the Fransiscan Sisters of the Eucharist, leaving unanswered the question of who the future operator will be.

Several months ago, the Sisters informed Washington State Ferries that they would be terminating their contract to operate the terminal. They also put the nearby store and marina which they own on the market.

It was then that Shaw islanders Steve and Terry Mason began their effort to purchase The Little Portion Store, plus the marina, on the condition that they would be able to get the contract to operate the terminal. The reasoning was that “The Washington State Ferries terminal contract for Shaw is essential to the economic survival of the store and thus the entire landing complex,” according to a letter supporting the Masons’ plan. It was stated in a Jan. 13 letter written by all three San Juan County Commissioners to ferry CEO Mike Thorne.

That contract pays the Sisters $104,000 a year, according to Friday Harbor’s Mike Akin, whose company Anchor Management Services, Inc. operates the terminal in Friday Harbor, and would like to do the same on Shaw.

Akin, who has no interest in the store or marina, claims that two months ago he was approached by Traci Brewer-Rogstad, Terminals Manager for the ferry system, and asked if he would take the contract on an interim basis, and for the amount noted above. Akin agreed to do this, but he acknowledges that no agreements were finalized, and no contracts signed.

Nevertheless, rumors began to spread throughout Shaw Island that the contract would be going to an off-islander, and that, as a result, the store would have to close. “It’s a huge topic on Shaw,” Jan Chamberlain-Lea told The Sounder, noting that local folks are very fearful that they’re going to lose their only store. “We all use the store,” Chamberlin-Lea said, adding that many elderly people on the island do practically all their shopping there.

Chamberlin-Lea also noted that when the nuns announced that they were putting the property up for sale, members of the community held meetings to discuss ways to keep the store. When they heard that the Masons had made an offer, “We backed off and supported them,” she said.

But with Akin now on the scene, Chamberlin-Lea and her friends are now undertaking a letter writing campaign to county commissioners, the ferry system, and state legislators in which they are arguing that the ferry landing needs to be in the hands of local people because, she said, “They can best provide the service.”

Their view is shared by county commissioners who, in their Jan. 13 letter to ferry management, lobbied for the Masons to get the contract. “The proposed owners, the Masons, are esteemed, capable members of the island’s community, highly qualified to manage the ferry terminal and business,” it read.

Akin argues that Washington State Ferries should not be in the business of subsidizing the store. In a Jan. 14 reply to county commissioners, he wrote, “The viability of that business should not fall on the shoulders of the taxpayers, but on the shoulders of the community of Shaw Island to keep its doors open.”

Akin is hoping that, when the nuns terminate their contract once and for all, the ferry system will take formal bids, with the contract going to the low bidder. “Let the chips fall where they may,” he said.

The ferry contract will definitely go to bid, Washington State Ferries Public Information Officer Pat Patterson said. But Patterson noted that the ferry system is not bound to award the contract to the low bidder, and that if a compelling case is made by somebody else, that bid will be given consideration, she said.

In the meantime, the Masons are now spending much of their time at the store and ferry landing, learning the ropes from the nuns, and hoping that they will soon be taking over the operation. One possibility is that the nuns will keep the contract with the ferry system, then sub-contract with the Masons to operate the terminal, store and marina.

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