WSF responds to ferry debacle | Guest Column

WSF responds to ferry debacle | Guest Column

Washington State Ferries provided the following information to particular residents, elected officials and San Juan Island Ferry Advisory Committee members involved in the loading issues after the ending of the San Juan County Fair Saturday, August 18 to clarify particular WSF policies and address process that will be addressed.

On the evening of Saturday, Aug. 18, several over-height or “tall” vehicles destined to Orcas Island from Friday Harbor, after participating in the San Juan County Fair, were left behind. We heard from several passengers frustrated with what had happened, giving us their perspectives, and asking it be fixed in the future. After investigating, this is what we’ve found.

In the past, our Friday Harbor terminal staff would go to the fair and ask for a livestock count from a fair representative or exhibitor. Unfortunately, because they could only be told how many livestock vehicles were there, not their length, number of spaces needed, or certainty on which sailing they’d be taking home, this proved to be unhelpful and was discontinued. So, there isn’t good predictability on when the over-height vehicles related to the fair will travel.

At approximately 8:30 p.m. on Aug. 18, the captain of the Samish, anticipating heavy loads, requested he be able to take cars from Orcas on his final sailing to Anacortes (usually a deadhead trip). That request was granted. During the process of ensuring all terminals knew of the change, a Friday Harbor terminal staff member told the Watch Supervisor he didn’t think they needed the extra capacity, that things were under control, but appreciated the heads up.

That night the Kaleetan, which holds 32 “talls” took eight for Anacortes (reservations) and 24-25 livestock talls for Lopez. This left them with three tall for Lopez and 18-20 talls for Orcas, and all Anacortes standby vehicles. At approximately 10:30 p.m., a Friday Harbor terminal staff member called the Watch Supervisor to ask for an additional stop there to clear vehicles, especially talls destined for Orcas, because the 10 p.m. final sailing was not going to be able to incorporate them all. Because the Interisland boat had already tied up for the evening, the Watch Supervisor denied this request. While the Interisland wasn’t an option, the Watch Supervisor should have called the Senior Port Captain on call to request the Samish, which was loading cars for Anacortes, go to Friday Harbor to take its remaining Orcas and Anacortes vehicles, dropping the Orcas vehicles there before going to Anacortes, its final stop for that night. That was a mistake and we apologize it didn’t happen.

There are three other issues we’ve investigated:

• There were reports an expletive directed at Orcas passengers was said by vessel crew or terminal staffer. We are investigating this and handling it through appropriate HR channels.

•Who gets first loading, reservation holders going to Anacortes or preferential loads as outlined in WAC 468-300-700 (http://apps.leg.wa.gov/WAC/default.aspx?cite=468-300-700). The WAC lists preferential loads in order of precedence. Subsection (g) states “specific to routes with reservations (defined in subsections (4) through (10) of this subsection, a vehicle with a reservation, presenting proof of that reservation.” Subsection (p) states “Specific to the Anacortes-San Juan Islands routes, a vehicle carrying livestock and traveling on routes where Washington State Ferries is the only major access for land-based traffic, where such livestock 9i) is raised for commercial purposes and is recognized by the department of agriculture, county agriculture soil and conservation service, as raised on a farm; or (ii) is traveling to participate in a 4H event sanctioned by a county extension agent.” Given subsection (g) falls before subsection (p), our terminal staff correctly loaded reservations before livestock.

• We heard reports that Lopez non-livestock talls without livestock were loaded before livestock talls for Orcas. Our terminal staff tells us there was a travel trailer and a Jeep with items on the roof, which may not have appeared to have livestock, but both were carrying animals. The Jeep had two goats and the trailer had goats and sheep in it. Our terminal staff had initially been told by their supervisor to NOT load them, but they protested, opening their doors to show there were in fact animals inside.

Our terminal staff should have requested an additional stop at Friday Harbor earlier than they did, and our watch supervisor should have asked for authorization to grant the request when it did come. We apologize for these two mistakes and have discussed them with appropriate staff.

Moving forward, we are all now very aware of the need for extra livestock tall space after the fair and will ensure it is available next year. We will work with the county, livestock owners, and San Juan County Fair staff to get a number of talls expected on Saturday night, adjusting the schedule to make sure everyone gets home that evening.

Again, we apologize for the mistakes that were made that night and commit to working with our crews, passengers, and local officials to ensure it doesn’t happen again.