News Briefs | June 5 edition

VIFR appoints new commissioner, Local students recognized, Islanders dissatisfied over ferries, and more.

VIFR appoints new commissioner

Following interviews last week with three applicants seeking to fill a vacant commissioner seat on Vashon Island Fire & Rescue’s (VIFR) board, the board unanimously voted on May 29 to appoint islander Amy Drayer to the position, filling the seat of former board member Camille Staczek, who recently resigned due to family matters.

Drayer, the former director of the Vashon Island Chamber of Commerce and currently the head of the Chamber-aligned advocacy group, Islanders for Ferry Action, will be sworn into her seat at the board’s next regular meeting on June 26.

Before the vote, board chair Brigitte Schran Brown and board member Candy McCullough thanked islanders Steven Nourse and Adam Knez, who had also applied and interviewed for the position.

“Our candidates brought a plethora of education and backgrounds, but unfortunately, [we can choose] only one,” Brown said.

“I think all of us wanted all of them, for different reasons,” McCullough said, before making to motion to appoint Drayer to the post.

Drayer, in an email, said it was an honor to be chosen for the role.

“Fire and medical first responders give their all on the front lines for the health and safety of our community every single day,” she said. “This is a small opportunity to support them — but to me, it means so much to be able to learn about the challenges they face as they show up 24/7 to save our lives and property, and then to engage the community in helping find ways to improve their outcomes and ours.”

Grace Riggs wins national contest

Grace Riggs, who grew up on Vashon and is now a third-year pharmacy student at the University of California San Diego Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, has won a prestigious national competition.

Riggs won the National Patient Counseling Competition, a contest sponsored by the American Pharmacist Association and the Academy of Student Pharmacists. Riggs outcompeted more than 100 other students from across the country over three separate rounds of the contest.

In the final round of the competition, Riggs interacted with an anxious patient — played by a professional actor — compassionately conveying information to the patient about their prescribed medication, Paxlovid, which is used to treat COVID-19.

According to a June 3 article published by UC San Diego Today, Riggs “drew on her training and experience to connect with the patient and provide clear, compassionate care.”

“Grace’s achievement is a testament to her unique talents and also to the strength of our pharmacy program and the exceptional training our students receive,” said Brookie Best, Pharm.D., M.A.S, dean of the pharmacy school. “We’re proud of our students for showcasing their skills and preparing for their future careers as pharmacists.”

Grace graduated from Vashon High School in 2017.

Local students recognized, awarded

Two island students graduating from Vashon High School each received $5,000 scholarships in late May from Our Community Credit Union (OURCU), which is based in Shelton and operates a branch on Vashon. The Vashon students are Ferdinand Escovedo and Rose Peterson.

Vashon-Maury students were also recently honored for their academic achievements in college.

Enrique Delzer was named to the winter 2024 Dean’s List at Kalamazoo College, which requires maintaining a 3.5 grade point average or higher.

Liam Krikawa was named to the spring 2024 Dean’s List at Lehigh University, which requires maintaining a 3.6 grade point average or higher.

Idaho inmate arrested on Vashon

Law enforcement from Idaho and Washington worked together to arrest an Idaho man on May 28 who had been mistakenly released from an Idaho jail about a week before, according to eastern Washington and Idaho news outlets.

The Spokesman-Review reported that Daniel Billingsley, 46, was erroneously released from the Idaho Department of Corrections on May 20, and arrested without incident on May 28. He was taken to be held at the King County Jail, the Spokesman-Review reported.

A photo from the arrest seems to indicate that Billingsley was arrested in or near the side parking lot of Vashon Pharmacy.

Billingsley was not considered an imminent threat to Kootenai County residents, according to the Kootenai County sheriff, and initial news reports didn’t indicate that he’d broken any laws or wrongfully evaded law enforcement by leaving the jail and eventually coming to Vashon.

The Kootenai sheriff’s office is conducting an internal investigation to find out why Billingsley, who was facing Fish and Game charges, was released from jail, the Spokesman-Review reported.

WSF seeks bids on new ferries

Washington State Ferries on May 30 officially released its nationwide Invitation For Bids (IFB) for the construction of up to five hybrid-electric, 160-vehicle ferries.

WSF intends to award one or two contracts to the lowest responsive bid per contract, according to the agency. Each bid will assign to a builder the responsibility of at least two ferries, and an optional third.

This means that two vessels could be delivered in 2028, two more in 2029 and the final ferry in 2030 (subject to final bid prices and available funding), according to WSF. The new ferries are expected to support the Mukilteo/Clinton and Seattle/Bremerton routes, but any addition of boats to WSF’s fleet will benefit all the other routes by adding more slack to the system.

All five ferries are funded by the state legislature with no federal funding.

Building diesel-only ferries to speed things up wouldn’t cut it, WSF says: “We have legislative direction, funding and design to proceed with the hybrid-electric vessels,” according to a WSF statement. “To change course and build diesel-only ferries, we would need to receive new legislative direction and re-start the design process. Altogether, the earliest a new diesel vessel could enter service would be 2030.”

WSF says full, lasting restoration on all of its routes will likely have to wait until the agency can get its first new ferries — likely no earlier than 2028. High demand for service and a limited stock of boats and crew remain the primary challenges to restoring service. Its fleet of ferries has dwindled and become older over time, and the agency has only recently started making strides in improving its crewing numbers.

A change in state law last year will allow WSF to expand its vessel-building program out of state, while providing a 13% credit to in-state bidders. (The last state ferries constructed out of state were delivered to WSF in 1967, according to the agency.)

Survey says: Islanders dissatisfied over ferry service

Survey results from the Washington State Ferries’ recently released Ferry Rider Opinion Group (FROG) survey show the deep but unsurprising extent of unhappiness that Vashon ferry riders feel toward their service.

Overall dissatisfaction on the Fauntleroy/Vashon route for winter 2024 was 70%, according to the FROG numbers, up from 55% in winter 2023. In that same period, dissatisfaction rose similarly for the Southworth/Vashon route — from 49% to 62% — and it more than doubled on the Tahlequah/ Pt. Defiance route — 26% to 58%.

(For all three of those routes, dissatisfaction was higher in 2022 than it was in 2023.)

“Despite the vital role these [Triangle Route] ferries play and rider-cited importance of reliability, WSF has given no timeline for providing a plan to solve the seriously flawed two-boat Triangle route schedule,” despite the legislature and governor this year signing $169,000 to WSF to fund a new service planner who could rewrite the schedule, Islanders for Ferry Action (IFA) said in a press release.

In the release, IFA called on WSF to announce such a timeline as soon as possible.

All legs of the Triangle Route, and the Pt. Defiance Tahlequah route, each saw double-digit boosts in the number of customers dissatisfied with the timeliness and dependability of ferry departures in winter 2024. (In this regard, every other route saw either single-digit increases or single- or double-digit decreases.) The satisfaction numbers were similar for arrivals.

For both years, the most dissatisfied riders have been those heading or returning to Vashon on the Triangle Route, San Juan inter-island route, and travelers on the Tahlequah / Pt. Defiance route.

Frustrated riders on the Seattle/Bremerton and Edmonds/Kingston routes were more likely to take alternate forms of transportation, while riders on the Tahlequah/Pt. Defiance, Triangle and Seattle/Bremerton routes were more likely to leave earlier to catch their ferries. Triangle route and Seattle/Bremerton riders were also more likely to react by simply making fewer trips.

Those results highlight the limited options that islanders, who have no bridge to the mainland, can employ for dealing with ferries. Alternate forms of transportation here are scarce, consisting mostly of the King County Water Taxi and private boats.

Triangle route riders were split on one question: How should WSF prioritize keeping the schedule vs running more sailings?

39% said WSF should prefer certainty that a ferry will sail at its posted time, even if that means fewer runs. 37% said WSF should maximize sailings, even if that means some sailings are delayed or cancelled. The remainder couldn’t decide, didn’t have a preference, or preferred not to answer.