State lawmakers voice outrage over latest ferry system woes

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Local lawmakers are firing angry criticism at the Washington State Ferries over the latest gaffe that made some Seahawks fans very unhappy ahead of the first home game of the NFL preseason - just days after a major ferry breakdown and suspension of a top ferry executive.

It was Friday when the ferry Cathlamet pulled out of Bremerton loaded with cars and Seahawks fans - including a lot of walk-on passengers - for the big game with the San Diego Chargers.

But as the ferry was heading on its way toward Seattle, crew members realized there were nearly 500 more people on board than the ferry is designed to carry. The vessel then headed back to Bremerton and state troopers ordered hundreds of people to get off.

Since that incident, state Rep. Sherry Appleton of Poulsbo tells KOMO News she has received many angry emails from her constituents who are concerned not only about the overloading incident but also recent breakdowns, mechanical problems and personnel investigations that have plagued the ferry system.

"How does a captain of a ferry not know that his ferry can only hold 1,200 passengers - unconscionable," she said.

State Rep. Larry Seaquist of Gig Harbor says many of the ferry system's problems are caused by aging boats and staff shortages, which he says are all a symptom of bad management at the top.

"We have to clean out the ... executive suite of the ferry system and restaff the whole front office, to put some competent executives in there," he said.

Meanwhile, Rep. Appleton says riders are paying more than ever and service isn't keeping up.

"Just the fact that people are paying more to ride ferries, and these things start happening, it is not a good spending of public funds," she said. "A family of four paying $54 round trip, and then their boat either breaks down or they're asked to leave the boat - I mean, that's not good PR any way you look at it."

Other recent problems in the ferry system include:

A Washington State Ferries executive whose ticket-seller son was fired by the agency has been placed on administrative leave for undisclosed reasons.

The ferry Tacoma lost power on the Seattle-Bainbridge Island route July 29 and became stranded in the waters of Puget Sound, temporarily stopping all service on the state's busiest ferry run. The vessel is still out of service after state officials said it has more extensive problems that previously thought.

The ferry Tacoma broke down at the same time the 202-car Wenatchee was in a Canadian dry dock to repair a leak, causing service disruptions on other routes. The Wenatchee returned to service on Aug. 1.

The state ferry system canceled or delayed some Aug. 4 sailings in the San Juan Islands at the height of the tourist season after a mechanical problem temporarily forced the ferry Elwha out of service. Hundreds of passengers on the Elwha were told to don life jackets when a motor in the engine room started smoking and the ferry made its way back to Anacortes at reduced speed under its own power.