Ocean Shores joins forces to restore ferry service with Westport

Both cities, Grays Harbor Transit draft new interlocal agreement to obtain grant funds, planning

Ocean Shores is entering into a new agreement with Westport and Grays Harbor Transit to work together to propose “jointly developing an economically feasible plan” to restore ferry service across Grays Harbor.

The proposed ferry between Westport and Ocean Shores will be expected to “provide regularly scheduled, dependable, frequent passenger ferry travel between the two cities … which may be expanded to include additional destinations within the Harbor.”

When passenger-only ferry service last ran between the two cities, between the mid-1980s and 2008, Grays Harbor Transit estimated it carried 300 people a day in the summer months, with the ferry providing as many as six trips a day across the Harbor.

“It’s really an agreement to work together on the common good,” said Mayor Crystal Dingler of the interlocal agreement that now goes to the city of Westport and Grays Harbor Transit for approval.

“It’s not committing any of us to absolutely anything yet,” Dingler cautioned. “We are still very early on the project, but we all feel it has economic benefit to all of us.”

The agreement, approved 7-0 by the Ocean Shores City Council on Monday, notes the “advantages of working together (to) leverage our independent and collective advantages” that each agency has in making a commitment to restoring ferry service that crossed the Harbor more than a decade ago.

Although the agreement is not legally binding, it makes a commitment by each entity to “explore, study feasibility, obtain planning grants, and determine the best mechanisms to implement the project.”

In a section of the agreement called, “Why this project and why now,” the agreement notes: “Ocean Shores and Westport continue to struggle with the numerous challenges that have long inhibited the central coast’s economic growth and vitality.”

According to the “vision” section of the agreement, the plan is for the ferry to “stimulate growth among the retail and maritime communities in both cities.”

“A shared tourism base will provide a stronger, more stable base and increase the quality of life for residents, and encourage high quality employers to invest in our communities,” the agreement states.

The first listed objective is to define and implement “infrastructure solutions” that produce the jobs and stimulate tourism-based economic activity in both cities. That could include how to land a ferry on both sides, with the old Ocean Shores Marina in dilapidated state, in need of dredging, and owned by the Quinault Indian Nation.

Another goal is to “establish a long-term collaboration between the cities and transit authority that can endure the challenges of implementation.” As part of the process, the agreement also states a key guideline is to “ensure solutions are compatible with the long-range vision of both communities and the transit authority, the Port of Grays Harbor and the Quinault Indian Nation, and other regional interests.”

Ocean Shores resident Lorraine Hardin told the Council that “everybody has wanted the ferry back for a lot of years.” But she questioned how the Marina would be dredged or if there was an option for another marina should the tribe sell the property.

Richard Wills said he was excited about the opportunity and wondered what type of ferry service was being proposed — a passenger-only ferry, would it allow for bike riders, or potentially a vehicle-carrying ferry.

Shannon Rubin, manager of the Canterbury Inn, noted many hotel guests from out of the area don’t realize they can’t get to Westport from Ocean Shores without traveling around Grays Harbor. “It would create more tourism opportunities if people could take day trips and explore the Grays Harbor area a little bit more,” she said.

Piper Leslie, director of the Ocean Shores/North Beach Chamber of Commerce, said she gets many calls from people coming into town about ferry service.

“The idea of having this be an option again and extending the relationship out with Westport … is the start of something amazing,” she said.

Dingler said one of the ideas is for a catamaran ferry that can land right on the beach, rather then needing to use a dredged marina to land. “When I first came to Ocean Shores, there was this old ferry and it was wonderful,” Dingler noted.