Vashon Island struggling economically due to state ferry crisis

Nov 29, 2023, 6:00 AM | Updated: 7:58 am

Vashon Island ferry...

Islanders for Ferry Action, a community organization based on Vashon Island, said that small businesses are struggling to make ends meet because of the frequent delays and outages with the ferry system to the island. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

(Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

The community of Vashon Island said they’re in crisis because of the Washington state ferry system and they are demanding that state officials take meaningful steps to address the problems.

Islanders for Ferry Action, a community organization based on Vashon Island, said that small businesses are struggling to make ends meet because of the frequent delays and outages with the ferry system to the island.

More ferry news: Edmonds-Kingston route on 1-boat service as ferry woes continue

According to Amy Drayer, Executive Director of the Vashon Island Chamber of Commerce, small business owners said they are struggling to thrive and they are tired of sitting by and waiting for the state to fix the problems.

Islanders for Ferry Action was formed in response to a rough summer full of disruptions with Washington State ferries.

“We often had one boat service Vashon Island. This occurred during our annual Strawberry Festival event. We went down to one boat service, we had multiple interruptions,” Drayer said. “And, of course, that’s a big example. When disruptions happen at pivotal times, it makes a big impact.

“You know, we understand that there’s a service restoration plan. We understand that [Washington State Ferry (WSF)] is on their way to crewing up and doing the best with their boats. But the number of boats … healthy boats in the system are dwindling. We understand that with limited resources. We need to come forward in a cooperative way with articulated solutions that will help relieve this crisis for Vashon.”

This is especially a problem when it comes to emergency health services, and she said it’s important the community knows that there are “ambulances transporting people off the island that literally can’t get back to Vashon to serve us if we have a 911 call.”

If something happens overnight, Vashon Island Fire and Rescue and Washington State Ferries have a great solution for our overnight gap, according to Drayer. If this incident occurs, the agencies would work with the Coast Guard to create a minimum crewing requirement so that the ambulances could get off the island.

And Drayer said it’s especially hard owning a small business on Vashon Island.

“If you own a construction company on Vashon Island, and you were working on building a home, remodeling a home, it costs you a lot of money to bring labor onto the island — to have labor go pick up goods from the island. And every day that you have that pause, you’re paying for labor and goods that you’re not capitalizing on.” She said one business owner claimed he loses $700 a day if employees don’t show up to work.

Life on the island isn’t just about tourism.

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“It is about the people who live and work on the island every day who are trying to do business. Small businesses, just like every other business, rely on the availability of labor and goods,” Drayer said. “And small businesses cannot survive if they cannot reliably source affordable labor and goods. And we know that small business is the core of a community. We cannot survive without our small businesses. And the majority of businesses on Vashon are small.”

You can read Islanders for Ferry Action’s full letter asking for more help to correct the problems with ferries here.

WSF told KIRO Newsradio that this is the reality until we can get new boats and hire more crew.

Follow Micki Gamez on Twitter or email her here

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