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Islander appointed to top spot at ferry district

Christine Nelson - Natalie Johnson/Staff Photo
Christine Nelson
— image credit: Natalie Johnson/Staff Photo

The King County Ferry District has hired its first full-time administrator to oversee the small transportation agency, which operates the Vashon and West Seattle water taxis.

Christine Nelson, 51, took on the $77,000-a-year post two weeks ago, after she was selected by the ferry district’s board of directors, the King County Council. Councilmember Joe McDermott, who chairs the ferry district, said Nelson was selected because of her extensive background in municipal government and her work with elected officials. He and the two other councilmembers who interviewed her were also impressed by her degree of knowledge about the ferry district and potential legislation that could affect its structure.

“She clearly does her homework,” he said.

Nelson moved to Vashon in November in part to be close to her aging mother, Helen Nelson, who lives on the Island. She also has two sisters on Vashon, both of whom commute to their jobs in Seattle on the passenger-only boat.

As a result, she said, she has a lot of appreciation for the role the ferry — popular among commuters — plays on Vashon Island.

“It’s clear from the Vashon ridership that if people are aware of it and it meets their needs, it’ll be used,” she said.

Nelson has spent about 20 years in local government in Washington, Oregon and, more recently, Alaska. Her last position was planning director for the Matanuska Susitna Borough in Alaska, a post she left to move to Vashon.

“I’ve done a little bit of everything in the land-use arena,” she said.

Already, she said, she’s diving into the ferry district’s biggest issues, including whether the foot ferry will be able to continue to dock at Colman Dock in Seattle, the carrying capacity of the often-overloaded Vashon-to-Seattle boat and plans to build some new boats in the next couple of years.

She hopes to meet with people who use the district’s two water taxis in the next couple of months to answer questions and discuss her plans and vision. Meanwhile, she added, she’s also beginning to think about the larger role a ferry district can play in the region, where foot ferries could become an efficient way “to move people around.” Other cities, including Bremerton and Port Townsend, are interested in foot ferries, she said.

“Long term, my vision would be to see all of the communities (in the Puget Sound region) working together to build a bigger system of moving people — more cheaply, quickly and easily — than on the big boats,” she said.

King County established its ferry district four years ago, after the state — which had run the Vashon-to-Seattle route — announced it would no longer operate passenger-only boats.

Since then, the ferry district has been overseen by a part-time executive director who left at the end of 2010, a part-time consultant and members of McDermott’s staff.

McDermott said the ferry district currently enjoys support from the King County Council, but under its current level of funding, its years are numbered. He said he plans to continue to work with his colleagues on the council to improve the district’s revenue stream.

“I think it’s on firm ground for what it’s doing know. There is still a significant political lift to come when we address the fact that we’re not financially solvent through all of 2016,” he said.

 

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