LUMMI RESERVATION — U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell appeared at Gooseberry Point with state, county and Lummi Nation leaders Tuesday to tout a $25 million grant that will help pay for a new Lummi Island ferry.
The new vessel, which won’t be in service for another five years or so, will be a diesel-electric hybrid that would be able to run solely on battery power on the 0.8-mile trip from Gooseberry Point to Lummi Island, Whatcom County Public Works Special Program Manager Roland Middleton said. The new ferry will replace the Whatcom Chief, which turns 60 years old this year.
The Whatcom Chief’s replacement will have more carrying capacity, with room for 34 vehicles and 150 passengers, compared to 16 vehicles and 100 passengers on the current ferry.
The Whatcom Chief docks at Gooseberry Point on Aug. 16. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)
During a press conference on the beach next to the ferry dock, Cantwell lauded the project as an example of cooperation across multiple governments. She made a point of acknowledging Lummi Chairman William Jones Jr., who joined Cantwell on the beach with Whatcom County Executive Satpal Sidhu and state Rep. Sharon Shewmake.
In his remarks, Jones noted that Lummi Nation has been willing to share its traditional fishing grounds with Whatcom County so it can operate the ferry between the mainland and the island, with its 1,000 or so residents. The chairman praised the future ferry’s smaller carbon footprint, saying climate change posed a threat to the Tribe’s salmon catch, and its clam and oyster harvests.
“It’s something that’s really heavy on our minds,” Jones said.
From left, Rep. Sharon Shewmake, Lummi Indian Business Council chairman William Jones, Sen. Maria Cantwell and Whatcom County Executive Satpal Sidhu discuss the new ferry. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)
Cantwell agreed it was important even for a rural ferry run to do its part to reduce impacts to the climate.
“This has got to be one of the most beautiful parts in the entire world right here,” she said. “So we have to be good stewards of Mother Earth.”
The $25 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) program covers roughly half the cost of the ferry project, which includes dock improvements and charging stations for the boat. As chair of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Cantwell was instrumental in securing additional funding for RAISE through last year’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
Whatcom County Public Works Special Program Manager Roland Middleton, left, and Sen. Maria Cantwell look at a poster with information about the new hybrid ferry, incoming 2027. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime investment,” Cantwell said, or at least, “once in 15 or 20 years.”
Democrats compromised to get the bill passed, the senator added. “We would have gone further, but we were pleased we got this done in a bipartisan fashion.”
In addition to the federal grant, the county received $10 million for the project from the County Road Administration Board and $5.4 million from the 16-year transportation spending package the state Legislature approved this year.
Local funds, including an upcoming facilities bond, will cover the remaining $10 million or more in costs, according to the executive’s office.