Local ferry task force dissolved

The best of intentions couldn’t spare a newly-created ferries task force from an untimely demise.

Citing absence of a game plan, as well as its own lack of leadership and support, the San Juan County Council last week dissolved the task force which it intended to be its eyes and ears, and its advocate, in Olympia and at the headquarters of the state ferry system in Seattle, and beyond.

Created by the council at the start of the year, the seven-person Ferry and Transportation Task Force consisted of elected officials of the town and county, and representatives from the chambers of commerce, ferry advisory committee, visitors’ bureau and the economic development council. Its task was to coordinate and further the work those organizations were already doing on matters involving transportation and ferries.

Councilman Rich Peterson, North San Juan, said there’s value in the tasks the council had in mind when it created the group and that he would support keeping it intact. However, he said, the steps the group would take in pursuing its mission, its distinction from other local advisory groups, like the ferry advisory committee, or where it fits into a larger tapestry of regional groups and government agencies also working on ferry and transportation-related topics, was poorly defined.

Furthermore, Peterson said, it’s unclear whether those who remain on what had been a seven-person panel were interested in continuing without the council’s renewed support.

Others on the Council agreed. Council Chairman Howie Rosenfeld, Friday Harbor, noted the group had been left to operate without funding despite an expectation of extended travel and the expense that would incur. That’s a tall request, he said, to make of a group of volunteers.

Council members were aiming high in creating the task force. They intended that it would keep a local finger on the pulse of the various agencies and legislative committees which are busy plotting what may prove to be a sweeping overhaul in the way the state ferry system operates. It would make sure local priorities were not ignored.

But the task force suffered what proved a fatal blow when Shaw Island’s Alex MacLeod, former FAC chairman and arguably its most knowledgeable appointee, was dismissed from his FAC position by the council in late February. Councilman Alan Lichter, Orcas West, a MacLeod supporter, stepped down in the wake of MacLeod’s ouster as the committee’s council liaison and from the task force as well. The task force, which had met only twice, has been idle ever since.

In theory, Patty Miller of Orcas Island, a task force appointee, said the group had a valuable role to play. But in reality, she said, the lack of support and a clearly-defined game plan, and being left in limbo, was a frustration for most.

“It might be just as well that you disbanded us,” Miller said. “I think most of us already felt abandoned.”