Growth On Guemes, 1977

In 1977 Skagit County proposed replacing the Guemes Island ferry, the Almar, with a new and larger capacity vessel. At the same time they proposed reconstructing the ferry docks and facilities. The following excerpts were drawn from the Environmental Impact Statement prepared by the Skagit County Planning Department.

The Almar pulls into the dock on Guemes Island.

Photo courtesy of Betty Crookes and Win Anderson.

"Changes in ferry sizing will not have a significant effect on population, housing and land use.

Ferry scheduling, however, will.

Similarly direct and indirect impacts to the existing transportation system are related more to the schedule of the proposed ferry than its size."

The Ferry

Skagit County has been operating the ferry Almar since 1965 to serve the residents, property owners, and visitors of Guemes Island. Previously, the ferry system was privately owned and operated. The Almar was “backyard built” in 1947 on Swan Island in the Columbia River near Cathlamet, Washington, and was designed for use in that river.

Marine Surveyor, Captain A. F. Raynaud, concluded that "the condition of the [Almar's] hull plating is a potential hazard...the existing vessel has outlived its economical usefulness, and the repair costs are far too great for the vessel's earning power."

The Anacortes Facility

The engineer’s evaluation reports that part of the [Anacortes] dock is rotten and should be replaced, the waiting room structure is serviceable but that the floor is rotting, that the loading truss is in fair condition with the movable end rebuilt in 1974 and the apron rebuilt in 1976, that the hoisting tower is in fair to poor condition and should be replaced in the next two to three years and that the dolphins are in fair to good condition. Overflow parking is available nearby along 6th Street. This parking, located in a residential area, is frequently needed, especially during the more popular summer months.

The Guemes Island Facility

The Guemes docking facility consists of a floating bridge-like span, the loading truss and apron, and dolphins. The condition of the span determines the 12 ton load limit of the ferry system. Parking is limited to a small lot just west of the span and to parallel parking along and on South Shore Road. The staging area consists of an extra lane 1/4 mile long on the Guemes Island Road. A telephone booth and a covered waiting shed flank the entrance to the floating span.

The Engineer’s evaluation...states that the float is kept operational only by the addition of foam after it sunk in 1976, and that it will require continual maintenance until it is replaced. The loading apron hinge and counterbalance are judged to be in poor condition, the truss timbers are in fair to good condition with the steel hangers and bracing in fair to poor condition, and the end hinge judged poor.

"Similarly, Guemes Island experienced the Skagit County “slow growth’ cycle from 1960 to 1970.

The Guemes population increased 6% (14 persons)..."

Elements of the Human Environment

Anacortes...The Comprehensive Land Use Plan for the City of Anacortes, 1977, states that the 1976 population of Anacortes was 8,015 people during the North Slope production activities of the Snelson-Anvil Company. Since this activity has diminished and is practically speaking dormant for the time being, normal population growth would probably reveal a 1977 population between the 8,015 and 8,200.

The 1975 estimated population of Guemes Island is 289 people (1975). Thus, of the approximate 298 housing units on the island, 125 (42%) are occupied by permanent residents and 173 (58%) are utilized by part time, seasonal renters, and property owners.

c. Summary of population and housing

Guemes Island Population




% Increase

1960 216 34 17%
1970 230 14 6%
1975 289 59 26%

Population projections

Applying the low (1% per year) and high (2% per year) growth rates used by the Planning Department for estimating population growth for the county and for various district comprehensive plans, the following population projections for Guemes Island are obtained:

1975: 289
1985: 319-352
2000: 370-474

If the island were to develop fully according to the 1975 Comprehensive Plan designations, the following would result:

22 acres of Commercial
1843 acres of Residential @ 1 acre lots x 2.31 (Average family size) = 4,257
3017 acres of Rural Open Space @ 5 acre lots x 2.31= 1,394
4882 acres Total population: 5,641

This figure does not reflect permanent and seasonal population fluctuations. Adjusted for the 1970 occupancy rate of .42 (42%), the maximum permanent population would be approximately 2370 persons. An increase in the occupancy rate, which seems very likely for other demographic, social, and economic reasons, would exhibit a concurrent increase in the permanent population. The comprehensive plan does not establish a particular year or plateau when this degree of development will be reached. Too many factors are involved which would effect the ultimate development level reached on Guemes lsland.

Lots and acres - Data at the County Assessor’s office shows that there are 419 unplatted lots or acreages and 751 platted lots on Guemes Island. If there were no further land divisions, these lots and acreages would support the following:

1170 lots X 2.31 Average family size X .42 Occupancy rate = 1,135 Population

Impacts of the Proposed Action
"To some island residents, this may be seen as a beneficial impact and, to others, a potential for more intensive development with the advent of larger trucks and wider loads than is presently allowed across the floating span."

The Ferry - The proposed ferry, as detailed in the Proposed Action chapter, will carry approximately seven more vehicles than the Almar. The County Engineers state that the new boat will have greater maneuverability because of the diagonal corner positioning of the engines and that repair and maintenance capabilities are enhanced by this design: the boat can operate with one engine if the other is down for repair; if prop damage occurs, the drive units can be swung up for prop replacement rather than dry docking as is necessary with the Almar; if more extensive damage to the right angle-drive units occurs, they can be replaced while afloat in a short period-of time; entire engine units can be replaced in less than 24 hours; and the 360° propulsion and steering capability will eliminate most docking maneuvers presently carried out by the Almar and its crew. The proposed ferry will be able to carry load and size limits presently legal for travel on the state and interstate highway systems.

The Guemes Island Facility

Reconstruction of the Guemes Island Facility will replace the existing span and float with a more permanent docking structure. It is proposed that the new design and construction will enable vehicles of legal size and load to utilize the ferry system. To some island residents, this may be seen as a beneficial impact and, to others, a potential for more intensive development with the advent of larger trucks and wider loads than is presently allowed across the floating span. Construction of a new parking/holding area will remove some of the parallel road shoulder parking now occurring along South Shore Road.

Population and Housing

1. Anacortes - No significant direct or indirect impacts to the population and housing of the City of Anacortes associated with the proposed action can be identified.

2. Guemes Island

a. Direct and indirect impacts - Quantifying and even qualifying impacts to the population and housing of Guemes Island as a result of the changes in ferry size and operations is extremely difficult and loaded with assumptions and plain guesses. Examining historical use data and the population and/or housing figures for the same periods provides us with the only reliable, concrete base from which to make future projections.

As reported in the Transportation section of this and the Existing Environment chapter, increases in ferry usage have been nominal and have generally paralleled the changes occurring in Skagit County as a whole. Usage appears especially nominal during the 1950’s when refineries were constructed on March’s Point and both Skagit County’s and Guemes Island’s population increased 19% and 17% respectively... In this case, an outside influence, i.e. refinery location and development, is viewed as the prime factor in boosting population and housing, not the ferry system.

Similarly, Guemes Island experienced the Skagit County “slow growth’ cycle from 1960 to 1970. The Guemes population increased 6% (14 persons) while the county experienced only a 2% increase over the ten year period. Heavy out-migration by the young-adult age groups due to better employment opportunities elsewhere was the prime factor.

1969 and ‘70, however, saw the beginning of increases in both vehicle and passenger usage of the ferry system and concurrent increases in population and housing.

The increase in passenger use is most notable. Examination of permanent population figures for 1970 and 1975...shows a 26% increase in those five years or 59 persons.

52 housing units were constructed between 1970 and 1975, an average of 10.4 units per year or 21% over the five year period.

The slight increase in population over the number of housing units constructed indicates several events are occurring: the average family size on the island is increasing or more people, perhaps unrelated, are living in each unit; or, some housing which was once seasonal have now become full-time residences.

In any case, the historical trends exhibit parallels between ferry usage and population/housing. If there is any cause-and-effect relationships at work, it is the increasing population of Guemes Island which is causing the increased usage of the ferry system and the system has responded directly to the demand placed upon it as evidenced by the steady rise in extra unscheduled trips. No changes have been made in ferry size since 1947 but it is the operation of the ferry that has been the responsive variable. Guemes Island has taken on a rather “sudden” appeal due to the attractiveness of having a rural island lifestyle with the urban convenience of a ferry operation that responds to user demands, the reverse of the San Juan island situation where the resident must adjusts his/her life to the ferry schedule.

As evidenced in Skagit County and elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest, a whole series of inter-related economic and social factors coupled with shifts in lifestyle goals has had more to do with fostering regional changes. What is occurring on Guemes Island in terms of growth is similar to what has been happening in the Pacific Northwest for the last five to ten years:

- Population migration out of the Northeast and North Central states to the South and West Coast states.

- Population migration from California to Oregon and Washington.

- Economic expansion of the Pacific Rim countries with a corresponding increase in diversification of that base. Vancouver, B.C. and Washington are notable cases.

- Greater disposable incomes with greater interest in land investment and development.

- More land suitable for low to medium density development at some of the lowest prices in the United States.

- Greater population reaching retirement age and retiring earlier than normal, with this population desiring a milder year round climate and a safer, less hectic lifestyle which can be found in rural Washington.

- Greater population of post-World War lI people who are changing personal and family goals from success in business and society to success in their personal and interpersonal lives.


Reduce or moderate the increase in the permanent population of Guemes Island so as to preserve the rural lifestyle for present and future generations."

b. Mitigating Measures

Objective: Reduce or moderate the increase in the permanent population of Guemes Island so as to preserve the rural lifestyle for present and future generations.

Measures: Since the purposes of this EIS is to address the proposed change in ferry size, growth controlling measures such as land use zone changes, down zoning, or building restrictions will not be discussed.

As we have seen, the primary factor affecting population growth has been the ready availability of the ferry from 6:30 AM to at least 6:00 P.M. Traffic analysis has shown that many extra runs are made to accommodate only a few vehicles.

If the citizens of Guemes Island wish to fulfill the above objective, one of the most effective means would be to establish a definitive ferry schedule with no extra runs, except in case of emergencies, and with minimum “commuter runs”.

Since cost to the user and the county is an important factor, a 16 or 18 car ferry making 100 trips per week (a little less than present Almar scheduled runs) would only need to operate at 54% capacity or 9.5 cars per trip to break even on expenses and revenues. Making fewer trips (75 per week) or more (125 per week) would require capacity to reach 65% or 11.7 cars per trip. Thus, the citizens of Guemes Island should work with the county to establish a balanced but firm ferry operating schedule that meets the needs of the people it serves and the taxpayers who support it.

B. Transportation

1. Direct and Indirect Impacts - As our previous evaluations have shown, changes in ferry sizing will not have a significant effect on population, housing and land use. Ferry scheduling, however, will. Similarly direct and indirect impacts to the existing transportation system are related more to the schedule of the proposed ferry than its size.

Under the present situation, a 9 car ferry, the Almar, is making 130 or more runs a week to meet the user demand while a 16 or 18 car ferry can make fewer runs to meet existing and planned needs while not incurring cost overruns experienced with the existing system. Table G presents a comparison of operating costs for 9, 18, and 27 car ferries at three different levels of scheduled crossings: 75, 100 and 125 trips per week. The larger 27 car ferry is included for alternative comparison purposes. Cost evaluations are based upon known, current operating-costs and do not reflect future contingencies such as inflation.

This table capsulates the presentation of direct cost impacts to the transportation system as it now exists. Note that an additional crew member may be necessary at a higher operating schedule.

Table H presents cost and revenue comparisons for 9, 18, and 27 car ferries operating at 100%, 66% (2/3), and 33% (1/3) of capacity or utility. 1975 is used as the base year for costs and revenues since these revenues have remained the same today. Examination of the Total Cost Per Trip (Table G) shows a one dollar higher cost per trip for the 18 car ferry due to the difference in fuel consumption. However, the cost per car is reduced well below that of a 9 car ferry, indicating a more favorable recovery of revenues to meet operating costs which is not the current situation as shown in Table H, 1975 Cost vs. Revenues. As indicated in that table, Profit or Loss Per Trip, the proposed action (18 car ferry), will generate a slight profit per trip at 100% capacity, slight loss at 66% (2/3) capacity, and a greater loss at 33% (1/3) capacity using the current rate structure.

Judged on a transportation system cost and operation/maintenance basis against revenues generated, the proposed action of replacing the Almar with an 18 car ferry creates no significant adverse direct or indirect impacts to the transportation system.

Traffic Projections - Year 2000

Two methods were used to extrapolate the Ferry Traffic data to the year 2000. In the first method, the vehicle and passenger figures were averaged over the years 1970 through 1975 and the average growth determined for that period. This growth factor (3.5%) was then applied to the 1975 values and compounded to the year 2000. This method resulted in values for the year 2000 as follows:

Vehicles 78,013 per year [106,210 was the actual count in 2000]

Passengers 201,923 per year [86,862 was the actual count in 2000]

It should be noted that these ferry traffic growth values agree closely with the rate of population growth anticipated for Guemes Island.

On the deck of the Almar.

Photo courtesy of Allen Bush.

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