If you haven’t been paying attention to the story of the trials and tribulations of Washington State Ferries, you have missed a true-to-life soap opera with quite a cast of characters. Sunday’s Seattle Times published an article outlining the story of how the city of Port Townsend has fared through a crisis within the ferry system. The story is a great example of a situation where, if the participants only would put as much effort into solving their problems as they do in assigning blame for their problems, the issues would be solved by now.

For those who have missed the story so far, here’s the outline:

  • The city and the state recognize that the ferries that serve the Port Townsend to Keystone route are getting too old to be useful, and decide that something should be done to replace them.
  • The state proposes building larger and more standardized ferries than the current Steel-Electrics. This would require moving or replacing the current Keystone ferry terminal and harbor.
  • The people of Port Townsend complain that tourists cannot get to town to spend money, causing business to disappear.
  • The people of Port Townsend complain that the ferries that WSF proposes will bring too many tourists to town at one time, causing their quaint little town to be inundated with too many tourists. So sad.
  • The people of Whidbey Island also depend upon this ferry route, but also do not want a new and improved ferry terminal in their back yard. Or in their neighbors back yard. Or anywhere on the island except in the place where only old, outdated ferries can get in.
  • Nobody has taken up the cause of the people who need access to this ferry to travel or transport goods, but do not live in the immediate area.
  • The state proposes ferries that are too small to be safe on the run. Then they propose ferries whose main benefit is that they share some critical dimensions as the antique ferries.

So, who’s fault is this travesty? Let’s see:

  • The people of Port Townsend claim that the state is dragging their feet on the issue. After all, in the last five years, they have commissioned four studies on just what they should do about the problems on this route.
  • The Washington Department of Transportation says they have to keep studying the problem because they have come up with a number of possible solutions. However, none of them have been acceptable to the people of Port Townsend and Whidbey Island.
  • Some people say that WSF should have (or could have) done something differently to keep the four 80-year-old ferries running. Ideas range from “they should have replaced them years ago” to “with a bit of maintenance we can get another 30 years out of them” to “why don’t we just cut off the top of each ferry and put them on a new hull”. While the advocates of each of these plans complain that their plan is the only one that will work, none of them are really practical.
  • State Representative Mary Margaret Haugen claimed to be a community leader to try to solve this issue, but is now blaming all the other parties (the legislature, the WSDOT, and the public) for exasperating the issue. They have been, but she fails to note that as the leader, it is her job to develop a consensus, come up wit han appropriate plan, and make sure it is implemented.

All of the players in this drama believe that their plan is the only correct plan. They each try to advance their plan as the only plan with the same religious fervor that is usually reserved for when people claim that their God is the only God.

Perhaps, if the players in this drama would just step back and realize that we cannot come up with the perfect solution for everyone, cooler minds can get together and come u with a solution. Perhaps this solution can help solve the needs on the communities on both sides of the ferry route, as well as those throughout the state. Or, we can argue about it until it becomes easier to simply abandon the service. The economy be damned, right?

Come to think about it, this is just one of many stories where the world might be a better place for us to live, if only we could refrain from blaming one another and work toward a workable solution for all.