If Lummi Island were uninhabited and preparing for human development today, and if we could design from scratch, how would we deal with transportation issues? Would we assume, for example, that gasoline would always be readily available and cheap? Would we want our transportation link to the mainland to connect us to a sovereign nation not our own? Or, would we rather travel to a natural trading center? Would we design our connection to the mainland based on our historical ability to go where we want when we want in a private passenger automobile? Or, would we try to build some sustainability into our system? Would we ask ourselves what system of transporting people and equipment to and from the island will be the most affordable and efficient over the long term?
On the island itself, there is not much we can do. No little town or commercial center ever developed here. There is a dearth of property available for any commercial activity. We suffer the additional handicap of not having a natural harbor that can serve the populated portions of the island. We do have lots of land that could be used to grow significant amounts of our own food. However, from a transportation standpoint, geography is not our friend, placing us behind Portage Island and a mere half mile away from the Lummi Nation, creating the illusion that Gooseberry Point is the best place to go. If there were a town at Gooseberry Point, or if Ferndale were a few miles closer, continuing ferry operations on the shortest distance between two points would make sense, assuming that we would have cheap fuel to run our beloved private conveyances forever. This isn’t likely. Ferndale isn’t going to get closer and a town with basic services will not develop at Gooseberry Point. Likewise, public transportation to Gooseberry is not likely to improve.
The Lummis are in a strong political position to tell the County to take a hike. We can shake our angry little fists at the Feds and demand that they help but it should be obvious by now that they won’t. It’s always been clear that the Lummis don’t want the dock any more, don’t want the traffic and may not need the money. They apparently don’t want to run a ferry service either (except, perhaps, for their own employees who live on the island). Becoming more obvious is the notion that the County doesn’t want to be in the ferry business.
As an island we’ve been waiting and lobbying for someone to solve our problem. The County has problems larger than the Lummi Island ferry. With a sinking tax base just about everything they do is going to be a problem. The Ferry Task Force will no doubt discover that there are all sorts of accounting problems with the way the money has been allocated. This will increase the tension between Lummi Island and the County. Ultimately, we might have to solve our own transportation problem.
We could start by proactively doing the staff work necessary to determine the feasibility of a passenger ferry from Lummi Island to Fairhaven. My gut feeling is that it is feasible and likely the most sustainable option for the long term.