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Friday, August 31, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Ferry system to slow boats blamed for shore erosion

Seattle Times staff reporter

Get ready for a longer commute on fast ferries between Bremerton and Seattle.

The trip will take 10 minutes longer for passenger-only fast ferries starting Oct. 1.

Washington State Ferries yesterday announced plans to slow down the ferries after its own environmental study found the boats contributed to beach erosion along part of Rich Passage. The trip, which currently takes a half-hour, will stretch out to 40 minutes when the boats slow down.

In addition, the ferry system will have to eliminate two trips each day, said Terry McCarthy, the agency's acting director. It now runs 28 trips a day between the two cities.

McCarthy said the agency hasn't decided which trips to cut. Last month, a daily average of 3,600 people rode the fast ferries.

The ferries will slow from 34 knots to 12 knots along a 2-½-mile stretch from Middle Point on the eastern side of Port Orchard to Waterman Point on the western side.

"We are relieved that the study indicates there's only a problem in the most narrow portion of Rich Passage and not elsewhere," McCarthy said.

Steve Berman, an attorney representing residents along Rich Passage, called the agency's decision "a ringing vindication for homeowners."

Rich Passage residents sued the ferry system in 1999, arguing that waves from the ferries were eroding beaches and causing other environmental damage.

They also got a preliminary injunction to slow the ferries, but last year the state Supreme Court lifted the injunction and allowed the boats to speed up.

The lawsuit is still in court. It calls for the boats to be slowed down and seeks money from Washington State Ferries to repair erosion and deal with reduced property values, Berman said.

It's not clear whether the ferry system is slowing the boats enough to take care of residents' concerns about beach erosion, he said.

Washington State Ferries spent more than $1 million to complete the environmental study.

Researchers monitored the shoreline in Rich Passage when the ferries were running more slowly during the court injunction. When the injunction was lifted and the boats speeded up again, "we began seeing impacts," said Bill Reynolds, the lead researcher for the study. The report was done by Cypress, a Seattle-based consulting firm.

The fast ferries were not the only factor causing the erosion but were a contributing cause, he said.

Other factors included the narrowness of the channel, the shape of the bottom, currents and other vessel wakes, McCarthy said.

The study recommended that the fast ferries slow to 12 knots, which was their speed during the injunction.

Although the commute on a fast ferry will take longer, it will be 15 minutes less than a car ferry, which takes 55 minutes, McCarthy said.

Andrew Garber can be reached at 206-464-2595 or agarber@seattletimes.com.

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