Washington State Ferries confirmed Monday what many already expected: the route connecting Sidney with Anacortes will not sail this spring, with summer sailings also unlikely.
John Vezina, director of government relations at Washington State Ferries (WSF), said in a statement it’s due to a lack of crew to sail the route. “While we continue recruiting, hiring, and training, it’s highly unlikely we’ll have crewing available for the Sidney route in this reservation horizon or for the summer release as well,” Vezina said.
Vezina emailed the statement after he and Nicole McIntosh, WSF’s chief of staff, met with elected representatives from the Anacortes and San Juan Islands routes to discuss the upcoming April 10 to June 18 reservation release.
“WSF is working on a (service restoration plan), which isn’t yet complete, but with Thursday’s reservations release, we need to publish the schedule for the public and wanted you (to) know an Anacortes/Sidney boat would not be part of the release.”
While Vezina’s statement spells out a sequence of events that could lead to a restoration of the Sidney-Anacortes route at some future date, its tone is also clear. “So, unfortunately, while understanding the economic importance of the Anacortes/Sidney route, we simply don’t have the crewing available to resume it for the foreseeable future,” he said.
Ferries have operated between Sidney and Anacortes since 1922, first under private ownership, then by WSF since 1951. WSF suspended service in March 2020 because of COVID-19. Historically, WSF offers one daily round-trip sailing during the second quarter and fourth quarter of any calendar year, two daily round-trip sailings during the third (summer) quarter, and suspending service during the opening quarter.
The sailing between Sidney and Anacortes is part of a larger route connecting Anacortes with San Juan Island. While Sidney-Anacortes isn’t a major route in Washington’s ferry system – accounting for 0.5 per cent of the system’s total passengers in 2019 – it bears significant historical, cultural and economic significance for the region.
When later asked about the long-term future, WSF spokesperson Ian Sterling said WSF has every intention of restoring the route when it has the crews to do so.
“That’s part of the ambiguity in John’s message,” said Sterling. “If, we suddenly had a large, unexpected influx of employees, we could potentially restore the route sometime this year. Having said that, it’s pretty unlikely.”
Sidney Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith said it is disappointing that this important connection between the Saanich Peninsula and the United States remains suspended.
“The (municipality) was looking forward to celebrating the 100th anniversary of the ferry service this year with the community of Anacortes, which has been a Sister City to Sidney since 1996,” he said in a statement. “We recognize that labour shortages are impacting many services and organizations. We remain committed to this ferry route and have heard the same commitment echoed by Washington State Ferries. We are optimistic that the service will return as we emerge from the pandemic.”
The municipality contracts Washington State Ferries to provide the ferry service through the municipal-owned international ferry terminal at Tulista Park.
According to Sidney’s statement, the ferry service began on a converted kelp carrier at the foot of Beacon Avenue in 1922. “The route between Sidney and Anacortes has long supported local tourism benefiting local and regional economies,” it reads. “It also connects friends and families across our shared border.”
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