On Guemes, 1977
In 1977 Skagit
County proposed replacing the Guemes Island ferry, the Almar, with a new
and larger capacity vessel. At the same time they proposed reconstructing
the ferry docks and facilities. The following excerpts were drawn from
the Environmental Impact Statement prepared by the Skagit County Planning
The Almar pulls
into the dock on Guemes Island.
Photo courtesy of Betty Crookes and Win Anderson.
in ferry sizing will not have a significant effect on population, housing
and land use.
scheduling, however, will.
direct and indirect impacts to the existing transportation system are
related more to the schedule of the proposed ferry than its size."
Skagit County has
been operating the ferry Almar since 1965 to serve the residents, property
owners, and visitors of Guemes Island. Previously, the ferry system was
privately owned and operated. The Almar was “backyard built”
in 1947 on Swan Island in the Columbia River near Cathlamet, Washington,
and was designed for use in that river.
Marine Surveyor, Captain
A. F. Raynaud, concluded that "the condition of the [Almar's] hull
plating is a potential hazard...the existing vessel has outlived its economical
usefulness, and the repair costs are far too great for the vessel's earning
The Anacortes Facility
evaluation reports that part of the [Anacortes] dock is rotten and should
be replaced, the waiting room structure is serviceable but that the floor
is rotting, that the loading truss is in fair condition with the movable
end rebuilt in 1974 and the apron rebuilt in 1976, that the hoisting tower
is in fair to poor condition and should be replaced in the next two to
three years and that the dolphins are in fair to good condition. Overflow
parking is available nearby along 6th Street. This parking, located in
a residential area, is frequently needed, especially during the more popular
The Guemes docking
facility consists of a floating bridge-like span, the loading truss and
apron, and dolphins. The condition of the span determines the 12 ton load
limit of the ferry system. Parking is limited to a small lot just west
of the span and to parallel parking along and on South Shore Road. The
staging area consists of an extra lane 1/4 mile long on the Guemes Island
Road. A telephone booth and a covered waiting shed flank the entrance
to the floating span.
evaluation...states that the float is kept operational only by the addition
of foam after it sunk in 1976, and that it will require continual maintenance
until it is replaced. The loading apron hinge and counterbalance are judged
to be in poor condition, the truss timbers are in fair to good condition
with the steel hangers and bracing in fair to poor condition, and the
end hinge judged poor.
Guemes Island experienced the Skagit County “slow growth’
cycle from 1960 to 1970.
population increased 6% (14 persons)..."
of the Human Environment
Land Use Plan for the City of Anacortes, 1977, states that the 1976 population
of Anacortes was 8,015 people during the North Slope production activities
of the Snelson-Anvil Company. Since this activity has diminished and is
practically speaking dormant for the time being, normal population growth
would probably reveal a 1977 population between the 8,015 and 8,200.
The 1975 estimated
population of Guemes Island is 289 people (1975). Thus, of the approximate
298 housing units on the island, 125 (42%) are occupied by permanent residents
and 173 (58%) are utilized by part time, seasonal renters, and property
c. Summary of population
Guemes Island Population
Applying the low (1%
per year) and high (2% per year) growth rates used by the Planning Department
for estimating population growth for the county and for various district
comprehensive plans, the following population projections for Guemes Island
If the island were
to develop fully according to the 1975 Comprehensive Plan designations,
the following would result:
22 acres of Commercial
1843 acres of Residential @ 1 acre lots x 2.31 (Average family size)
3017 acres of Rural Open Space @ 5 acre lots x 2.31= 1,394
4882 acres Total population: 5,641
This figure does not
reflect permanent and seasonal population fluctuations. Adjusted for the
1970 occupancy rate of .42 (42%), the maximum permanent population would
be approximately 2370 persons. An increase in the occupancy rate, which
seems very likely for other demographic, social, and economic reasons,
would exhibit a concurrent increase in the permanent population. The comprehensive
plan does not establish a particular year or plateau when this degree
of development will be reached. Too many factors are involved which would
effect the ultimate development level reached on Guemes lsland.
Lots and acres - Data
at the County Assessor’s office shows that there are 419 unplatted
lots or acreages and 751 platted lots on Guemes Island. If there were
no further land divisions, these lots and acreages would support the following:
1170 lots X 2.31 Average
family size X .42 Occupancy rate = 1,135 Population
Impacts of the Proposed Action
some island residents, this may be seen as a beneficial impact and, to others,
a potential for more intensive development with the advent of larger trucks
and wider loads than is presently allowed across the floating span."
Ferry - The proposed ferry, as detailed in the Proposed Action
chapter, will carry approximately seven more vehicles than the Almar.
The County Engineers state that the new boat will have greater maneuverability
because of the diagonal corner positioning of the engines and that repair
and maintenance capabilities are enhanced by this design: the boat can
operate with one engine if the other is down for repair; if prop damage
occurs, the drive units can be swung up for prop replacement rather than
dry docking as is necessary with the Almar; if more extensive damage to
the right angle-drive units occurs, they can be replaced while afloat
in a short period-of time; entire engine units can be replaced in less
than 24 hours; and the 360° propulsion and steering capability will
eliminate most docking maneuvers presently carried out by the Almar and
its crew. The proposed ferry will be able to carry load and size limits
presently legal for travel on the state and interstate highway systems.
the Guemes Island Facility will replace the existing span and float with
a more permanent docking structure. It is proposed that the new design
and construction will enable vehicles of legal size and load to utilize
the ferry system. To some island residents, this may be seen as a beneficial
impact and, to others, a potential for more intensive development with
the advent of larger trucks and wider loads than is presently allowed
across the floating span. Construction of a new parking/holding area will
remove some of the parallel road shoulder parking now occurring along
South Shore Road.
1. Anacortes - No
significant direct or indirect impacts to the population and housing of
the City of Anacortes associated with the proposed action can be identified.
2. Guemes Island
a. Direct and indirect
impacts - Quantifying and even qualifying impacts to the population and
housing of Guemes Island as a result of the changes in ferry size and
operations is extremely difficult and loaded with assumptions and plain
guesses. Examining historical use data and the population and/or housing
figures for the same periods provides us with the only reliable, concrete
base from which to make future projections.
As reported in the
Transportation section of this and the Existing Environment chapter, increases
in ferry usage have been nominal and have generally paralleled the changes
occurring in Skagit County as a whole. Usage appears especially nominal
during the 1950’s when refineries were constructed on March’s
Point and both Skagit County’s and Guemes Island’s population
increased 19% and 17% respectively... In this case, an outside influence,
i.e. refinery location and development, is viewed as the prime factor
in boosting population and housing, not the ferry system.
Island experienced the Skagit County “slow growth’ cycle from
1960 to 1970. The Guemes population increased 6% (14 persons) while the
county experienced only a 2% increase over the ten year period. Heavy
out-migration by the young-adult age groups due to better employment opportunities
elsewhere was the prime factor.
1969 and ‘70,
however, saw the beginning of increases in both vehicle and passenger
usage of the ferry system and concurrent increases in population and housing.
The increase in passenger
use is most notable. Examination of permanent population figures for 1970
and 1975...shows a 26% increase in those five years or 59 persons.
52 housing units were
constructed between 1970 and 1975, an average of 10.4 units per year or
21% over the five year period.
The slight increase
in population over the number of housing units constructed indicates several
events are occurring: the average family size on the island is increasing
or more people, perhaps unrelated, are living in each unit; or, some housing
which was once seasonal have now become full-time residences.
In any case, the historical
trends exhibit parallels between ferry usage and population/housing. If
there is any cause-and-effect relationships at work, it is the increasing
population of Guemes Island which is causing the increased usage of the
ferry system and the system has responded directly to the demand placed
upon it as evidenced by the steady rise in extra unscheduled trips. No
changes have been made in ferry size since 1947 but it is the operation
of the ferry that has been the responsive variable. Guemes Island has
taken on a rather “sudden” appeal due to the attractiveness
of having a rural island lifestyle with the urban convenience of a ferry
operation that responds to user demands, the reverse of the San Juan island
situation where the resident must adjusts his/her life to the ferry schedule.
As evidenced in Skagit
County and elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest, a whole series of inter-related
economic and social factors coupled with shifts in lifestyle goals has
had more to do with fostering regional changes. What is occurring on Guemes
Island in terms of growth is similar to what has been happening in the
Pacific Northwest for the last five to ten years:
- Population migration
out of the Northeast and North Central states to the South and West
- Population migration
from California to Oregon and Washington.
- Economic expansion
of the Pacific Rim countries with a corresponding increase in diversification
of that base. Vancouver, B.C. and Washington are notable cases.
- Greater disposable
incomes with greater interest in land investment and development.
- More land suitable
for low to medium density development at some of the lowest prices in
the United States.
- Greater population
reaching retirement age and retiring earlier than normal, with this
population desiring a milder year round climate and a safer, less hectic
lifestyle which can be found in rural Washington.
- Greater population
of post-World War lI people who are changing personal and family goals
from success in business and society to success in their personal and
or moderate the increase in the permanent population of Guemes Island
so as to preserve the rural lifestyle for present and future generations."
or moderate the increase in the permanent population of Guemes Island
so as to preserve the rural lifestyle for present and future generations.
Measures: Since the
purposes of this EIS is to address the proposed change in ferry size,
growth controlling measures such as land use zone changes, down zoning,
or building restrictions will not be discussed.
As we have seen, the
primary factor affecting population growth has been the ready availability
of the ferry from 6:30 AM to at least 6:00 P.M. Traffic analysis has shown
that many extra runs are made to accommodate only a few vehicles.
If the citizens of
Guemes Island wish to fulfill the above objective, one of the most effective
means would be to establish a definitive ferry schedule with no extra
runs, except in case of emergencies, and with minimum “commuter
Since cost to the
user and the county is an important factor, a 16 or 18 car ferry making
100 trips per week (a little less than present Almar scheduled runs) would
only need to operate at 54% capacity or 9.5 cars per trip to break even
on expenses and revenues. Making fewer trips (75 per week) or more (125
per week) would require capacity to reach 65% or 11.7 cars per trip. Thus,
the citizens of Guemes Island should work with the county to establish
a balanced but firm ferry operating schedule that meets the needs of the
people it serves and the taxpayers who support it.
1. Direct and Indirect
Impacts - As our previous evaluations have shown, changes in ferry sizing
will not have a significant effect on population, housing and land use.
Ferry scheduling, however, will. Similarly direct and indirect impacts
to the existing transportation system are related more to the schedule
of the proposed ferry than its size.
Under the present
situation, a 9 car ferry, the Almar, is making 130 or more runs a week
to meet the user demand while a 16 or 18 car ferry can make fewer runs
to meet existing and planned needs while not incurring cost overruns experienced
with the existing system. Table G presents a comparison of operating costs
for 9, 18, and 27 car ferries at three different levels of scheduled crossings:
75, 100 and 125 trips per week. The larger 27 car ferry is included for
alternative comparison purposes. Cost evaluations are based upon known,
current operating-costs and do not reflect future contingencies such as
This table capsulates
the presentation of direct cost impacts to the transportation system as
it now exists. Note that an additional crew member may be necessary at
a higher operating schedule.
Table H presents cost and revenue comparisons for 9, 18, and 27 car ferries
operating at 100%, 66% (2/3), and 33% (1/3) of capacity or utility. 1975
is used as the base year for costs and revenues since these revenues have
remained the same today. Examination of the Total Cost Per Trip (Table
G) shows a one dollar higher cost per trip for the 18 car ferry due to
the difference in fuel consumption. However, the cost per car is reduced
well below that of a 9 car ferry, indicating a more favorable recovery
of revenues to meet operating costs which is not the current situation
as shown in Table H, 1975 Cost vs. Revenues. As indicated in that table,
Profit or Loss Per Trip, the proposed action (18 car ferry), will generate
a slight profit per trip at 100% capacity, slight loss at 66% (2/3) capacity,
and a greater loss at 33% (1/3) capacity using the current rate structure.
Judged on a transportation
system cost and operation/maintenance basis against revenues generated,
the proposed action of replacing the Almar with an 18 car ferry creates
no significant adverse direct or indirect impacts to the transportation
- Year 2000
Two methods were used
to extrapolate the Ferry Traffic data to the year 2000. In the first method,
the vehicle and passenger figures were averaged over the years 1970 through
1975 and the average growth determined for that period. This growth factor
(3.5%) was then applied to the 1975 values and compounded to the year
2000. This method resulted in values for the year 2000 as follows:
per year [106,210 was the actual count in 2000]
per year [86,862 was the actual count in 2000]
It should be noted
that these ferry traffic growth values agree closely with the rate of
population growth anticipated for Guemes Island.
On the deck of
Photo courtesy of Allen Bush.