Capital Surcharge and New Ferry FAQs

The New Ferry Vessel FAQs

How big is the proposed new ferry? 

The new diesel battery hybrid vessel will accommodate 34 cars and 150 passengers.

What does it look like?

View photos and more information on the new vessel webpage.

How was the vessel size determined?

The Whatcom County Council, in collaboration with LIFAC and Public Works, conducted a systematic, publicly-informed design process. The proposed replacement meets all current standards and the needs of residents, emergency services, taxpayers, crew members, and the environment for decades to come. For more information visit the Level of Service webpage.

What emergency services improvements will it have?

Lummi Island’s immediately available emergency response resources now are limited to a volunteer fire department with no medical facilities. The new ferry design provides a critical emergency service function for fire support, EMS, utility service workers, and law enforcement to respond to the island, both rapidly and reliably. 

This new vessel will travel easily and safely to Port of Bellingham terminal facilities should that be required.

What are the maintenance benefits?

Less downtime for maintenance. Goodbye, 3-week drydocks every year. The U.S. Coast Guard will require dry-docking once every 5 years. Annual out-of-service maintenance periods will be reduced.

What will the passenger experience be like? 

  • The new vessel will transport more cars and pedestrians per trip. 
  • It will meet ADA requirements. 
  • It includes dedicated vehicle and pedestrian spaces for a safer traveler experience. Passengers will have a pass-through cabin. 
  • Wider vehicle lanes can accommodate broader and heavier loads. 

How does the new ferry plan anticipate future passenger growth?

The new vessel design accommodates ridership growth with expected capacity through 2060. 

Is there an effect on island economy and quality of life? 

The new vessel increases ferry reliability and capacity, thus improving the movement of goods and services for the general store, restaurants, library, post office, churches, and school.

It will support islander transit to and from the mainland for access to services.

Does it have environmental benefits? 

The diesel battery hybrid vessel was specifically designed to reduce pollution from noise and lighting and to meet EPA emissions regulations. The design allows for future full-electric conversion once shore power and funds can support it. 

The target is to become carbon neutral. And terminal improvements consider projected sea-level rise.

What is the economic impact of this project?

Construction of the new vessel and terminal improvements will create an estimated 240 or more jobs broken into two categories: 

  • 125 jobs (approx.) for the construction of the vessel.
  • 120 jobs (approx.) for the terminal improvements. 

Capital Surcharge FAQs 

Ordinance 2021-147 was approved by the Whatcom County Council on March 23, 2021, establishing a Capital Surcharge on most Ferry Fares. Read the FAQs below for more information.  

What does it cost me?

$1 per ride, on most punch cards and single-use fares.

For all rides?

No. Qualified needs-based, qualified senior/disabled, and student fares are all exempt. The surcharge applies to all other ferry rides—vehicle and pedestrian, punch cards and single-ride. 

Will it apply to existing punch cards?

All punch cards purchased before the new ordinance takes effect will be honored based on Whatcom County Code section 10.34.020 M. Replacement of lost or damaged existing punch cards, after the program starts, will incur the surcharge unless they are exempt by being student, needs-based, or qualified senior/disabled fares.

What will the surcharge money be used for?

Exclusively toward the purchase of a new ferry and to make modifications to both ferry terminals. (The ferry is the only capital asset owned by Whatcom County that doesn’t have a replacement fund.) 

When will it take effect?

The collection will begin on Monday, May 17, 2021.  

How long will the surcharge last?

The ordinance has no expiration date. 

Will it increase in the future? 

Any increase would require a public process and input from islanders leading up to final approval by the County Council. There is no plan for that written into the surcharge ordinance.

How does the surcharge help us?

Establishing this dedicated funding source for all ferry capital projects is essential to preventing large fare spikes in the future. 

Why do we need a new ferry? 

The Whatcom Chief will be more than 60 years old when the proposed new ferry replaces it. Ferries of the Chief’s type are built to last 40-60 years, depending on maintenance and wear-and-tear factors. It has exceeded its useful life. 

Why can’t the County just keep and maintain the Whatcom Chief?

It no longer meets the level of service criteria set by the County Council for safety and conveniences. Nor is it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

Further, a major overhaul would be required in 2029 at an exceptionally high cost—multi-millions—to meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emissions requirements. 

Can’t we pay for the new vessel some other way?

Unfortunately, no single funding source will cover the cost. This dedicated surcharge will help cover the full cost of a new ferry (projected as $35 million). 

Whatcom County Public Works is applying for multiple other funding sources, such as:

    A state CRAB grant (County Road Administration Board).

    Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) program funds. 

    A U.S. Department of Transportation BUILD grant (Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development). 

Our grant applications gain strength with the surcharge in place as part of the business plan, demonstrating a dedicated funding source for ferry capital projects. 

Were island residents involved in the recommendation for a surcharge?

The Lummi Island Ferry Advisory Committee (LIFAC), in partnership with Whatcom County Public Works, evaluated all options. Public discourse was available and encouraged for more than a year at monthly LIFAC meetings. (That led to, for example, exemptions for some fares.) And a public hearing took place March 24 before the County Council voted for the ordinance.