Ferry Committee Candidate John Hopkins

LineTime posed a number of questions to Steve Orsini and John Hopkins, candidates for an open seat on the Guemes Island Ferry Committee in 2019. John Hopkins' responses:

Please tell us about yourself.

I'm John Hopkins and I've lived fulltime on Guemes Island for thirteen years on West Shore Road with my wife, Julie. She and I met in Peru while serving in the Peace Corps. I first rode the ferry to Guemes Island in 1966 when I came out to marry Julie (McClung). We then visited Julie's family regularly. I am an economist—more specifically, an agricultural economist, by training and experience. I was a Foreign Service officer with the US Department of Agriculture and served in various countries around the world.

Why do you want to serve on the Guemes Island Ferry Committee?
Over the past years, I have attended numerous ferry and county meetings where the atmosphere was very confrontational. I think our dialogue and working relationship with the county and within the committee need to improve. I would like to bring a less confrontational approach so we can better achieve our goal of a successful ferry operation.* The Ferry Committee is an advisory one. I believe the committee would increase its influence if it adopted a more collaborative approach.

What skills and experience would you bring to the committee?
As a Foreign Service officer, I have worked on various committees and task forces solving complicated issues. I worked in Washington, DC for three years as Director of Trade Policy for the Far East for the US Department of Agriculture, representing the nation’s farmers. I served on a task force with the trade representatives from the US State, Treasury, and Commerce departments. We had different constituents but were required to present a united front while negotiating bilateral trade policy issues with countries such as China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. I also worked as the head economist for the Alaska Bureau of Land Management and prepared long-term budgets of $120 million (adjusted for inflation). On the Ferry Committee, I would try to use my problem-solving and budgeting experiences to be a constructive team member.

On what other island organizations have you served?
While I have attended island community meetings and events, I have not served on any island committees or boards. I think the next three years will be critical in determining the future of our ferry service, so I am stepping forward now to offer my services. 

How would you describe the point of view you might represent on the Ferry Committee?
My main view is that we need a dependable and reliable ferry for the next 40-plus years at a reasonable cost. The county owns and operates the ferry, but they work for us. When I supervised employees, I always focused on helping each employee do the best job they could. I think the Ferry Committee should assist the county in doing the best job of operating the ferry that they can.

How do you see yourself representing those with whom you disagree?
I have worked in various different cultures so am used to different viewpoints and the need to build consensus. I try to understand and be respectful of other people’s views. There is never going to be 100 percent agreement on any issue on Guemes Island. I think one of the Ferry Committee’s missions should be to accurately communicate and explain islanders’ differing points of view to the county and to islanders. I do not think “compromise” is a dirty word.

Over the past year, the Ferry Committee's and Islander's involvement in Ferry policy development has greatly expanded. In what ways would you improve communication between the Ferry Committee and Guemes Islanders?
I think it is extremely important that the committee accurately report islanders’ views to the county and vice versa, and not use the committee to further one’s personal views. It is important that we improve the two-way dialogue with the county. Recently the Ferry Committee started having regularly scheduled and publicly announced monthly meetings, and minutes of the meetings are now taken and published on linetime.org and myguemes.org. Those types of efforts should be extended to make its operations transparent, and fresh thinking should be encouraged.

How do you see improving the role of the Ferry Committee as intermediary and advocate for ferry ridership?
In addition to developing a better working relationship with the county, I think the Ferry Committee should expand its role to be more inclusive of our greater ridership. As an economist, I believe major decisions should be data-driven and evidence-based. I applaud the efforts of Ferry Committee member Dave Prewitt to gather and organize ridership data.

How do you see the Ferry Committee helping islanders understand the complexities of issues and assess impacts of policy decisions?
Ferry operations are impacted by a varying ridership: fulltime retired and working residents, small businesses, part-time property owners, and island guests and visitors, who can triple our peak-season population. Each group of riders may have differing agendas. Coast Guard regulations, crew requirements, and the county-wide political arena also impact decisions regarding ferry operations. The Ferry Committee can help define and explain these complexities by being able to report clearly and accurately the issues we face and determine which ones we can most likely impact.

Are you in favor of a new, larger and possibly electric ferry for Guemes Island or refitting the current vessel?
I favor a new ferry. An electric ferry with a generator on board is my preference and is environmentally more desirable. I think a 28-car ferry would be more economical than a 32-car ferry, be more likely to handle the current schedule, and provide some relief to our long lines, but am open to different views. Wider lanes and a wider apron, so passengers and vehicles can load simultaneously, should make loading more efficient. A new ferry should last us till about 2065. It is difficult to project what the world will be like then, but it is likely that an electric ferry will be better able to take advantage of new technological advances, and a clean operating ferry will still be important.

Are you confident that a 35-car ferry will reduce wait times, even though the County has not demonstrated or explained how they can load and unload it on the current schedule (and longer time between runs means it will carry less per hour than the current boat)?
There is no proposal for a 35-car ferry. See my answer to the previous question.

Do you support a Guemes Island-only Ferry Taxing District that would assess island property owners to pay for the new ferry?
This question is moot. The county was considering a taxing district only because they wanted to apply for a $10 million grant that required one. Last April, the county commissioners ruled out a taxing district, and applied for a $7.5 million grant. They chose to implement a surcharge as a possible funding source for a new ferry now or later. There are many property owners who do not live on the island. They have a vested interest in a reliable ferry. Since they seldom ride the ferry, they are paying very little through the surcharge. In order for these property owners to contribute towards a new ferry, I thought a limited ferry tax of 20 cents per $1,000 valuation ($100 for a $500,000 property) and not the 75 cents per thousand that the county was considering was reasonable. With these extra funds, the surcharge on walk-ons would not have been needed. I also advocated that the Real Estate Excise Tax on Guemes Island properties should be applied to the capital cost of the new ferry.

Do you support paying for a new ferry through additional surcharges or fare increases?
I do not support additional surcharges or fare increases to pay for a new ferry. I do support the county’s effort to find grant funding for a new ferry.

According to Skagit County's Capital Facilities Plan, one way to increase the capacity of the Guemes Island Ferry system is to "encourage car-pooling and walk-on passengers" to reduce drive-on traffic. How do you imagine encouraging walk on traffic, especially among those reluctant to get out of their cars?
I think the surcharge should be eliminated for walk-on riders. I believe the expanded parking on the Anacortes and Guemes sides has already increased walk-on riders and should continue to be maintained.

Do you walk on regularly?
When I ride the ferry it is normally as a walk-on.

Please tell us your vision for future Ferry service.
I think our goal should be a reliable, cost-effective ferry that is as environmentally friendly as possible.

How do you envision the ideal Guemes Island Ferry system?
Ideally, the ferry should meet its scheduled runs consistently and should meet capacity requirements. To help with capacity, especially during the peak season, adding a run during the lunch and dinner hours should be considered.

What issues do you see as being paramount in the next 5 years?
Our main challenge in the next few years is replacing the current ferry, and in order to do this, we need to assist the county in obtaining outside funds. It is possible that in the next five years, the issue of the target revenue formula may be revisited. I think the existing target of 65 percent of the operation and maintenance costs has served us well and should be continued.

*Candidate Steve Orsini who has served on the ferry committee for over 25 year disputes Mr. Hopkins' characterization and cites this email from the County last July that expressed appreciation for a Ferry Committee meeting:

The email displayed here has been removed at the behest of Rachel Rowe, saying it put her "in a tough position".