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Whatcom Chief’s replacement is closer to being funded while a celebration for its 60th year in service is planned

Rendering of draft design for new Lummi Island ferry (2021). Source: Whatcom County Public Works

LUMMI ISLAND, Wash. — A celebration is planned for August 21st on Lummi Island to mark the 60th anniversary of the Lummi Island ferry, Whatcom Chief, going into regular service. At the same time, a $25 million grant has been announced to be used to replace the Whatcom Chief with an updated vessel.

Today, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) awarded a $25 million grant to replace the 60-year-old Lummi Island ferry with an electric-battery hybrid ferry and build related infrastructure. DOT awarded the funding through the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) Discretionary Grant Program, which enables communities of all sizes to carry out projects with significant local or regional impact.

Rep. Rick Larsen and Rep. Suzan DelBene joint press release (August 9, 2022)

The grant is the result of a RAISE grant application Whatcom County submitted to the US Department of Transportation.

This project will replace the 60-year-old ferry with an electric-battery hybrid ferry that provides service to and from the rural community of Lummi Island. The project also includes adjusting the terminal structures to accommodate the new ferry, installing electrical charging infrastructure and making operational and upland modifications to preserve and enhance the functionality of the ferry system.

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In 2018, the Lummi Island Ferry Advisory Committee (LIFAC) completed their alternatives analysis for meeting current and future ridership recommending that the Whatcom Chief be replaced with a 34-vehicle 150-passenger ferry.

The 60-year-old Whatcom Chief has not only exceeded its useful life but is not properly designed to meet current and projected travel demand, safety standards and environmental goals.

Final Whatcom County RAISE grant application submitted in April 2022

According to the April 2022 final RAISE grant application, the total estimated cost to update the Gooseberry Point and Lummi Island terminals and infrastructure at each end of the ferry run plus replacing the Whatcom Chief would be $50,291,000, an increase over the $30 million estimate cited in a Washington County Road Administration Board (CRAB) grant application dated November 2021.

Also, according to the April 2022 RAISE grant application, “The Washington State Legislature has appropriated $5.3 million to this project. Additionally, it is anticipated that a $10M grant, payable in twenty equal annual payments, will be awarded from the County Ferry Capital Improvement Program (CFCIP).” It was also recently announced that $783,239 was made available to the project this year from DOT’s Federal Highway Administration Ferry Boat and Terminal Facilities Program. These sources combined with the RAISE grant result in a total of about $41 million in funding.

Local funding sources available to make up any outside revenue source deficit include the following.

  • Capital surcharge on ferry fares
    $1 on most trips began being collected in May 2021. Student, needs-based and qualified senior/disabled fares are exempt
  • County Road Fund
  • County Road Administrative Board Grant
  • Move Ahead WA 2022 Supplemental State Transportation Appropriation

The current estimate for the replacement ferry to begin regular service is 2027.

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Whatcom Chief making the crossing from Gooseberry Point to Lummi Island (July 24, 2015). Photo: Whatcom News
Whatcom Chief making the crossing from Gooseberry Point to Lummi Island (July 24, 2015). Photo: Whatcom News

In the meantime, plans are underway for a celebration of the Whatcom Chief’s 60th year in service by the Lummi Island Community Association. The event will include live entertainment, food and celebration and is scheduled for 1pm to 4pm on Sunday, August 21st, at the public parking area across the street from the ferry landing on the Lummi Island side (aka Orchard Park).

Approximate location of the 60th year anniversary celebration

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2 Comments

  1. Dan August 11, 2022

    Batteries and saltwater. Always a good combination.

  2. Marilyn August 11, 2022

    Didn’t we just spend 10 million to repower the Whatcom Chief?

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